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New Jersey is Pushing Unconstitutional Anti-BDS Legislation Because No more Plausible Deniability

03/21/2016 03:13 pm ET | Updated Mar 21, 2016

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a non-violent political protest against Israel's policies and practices that violate the human rights of Palestinians. BDS is a tool incorporated from the anti-apartheid South Africa movement. In the last year, there has been a surge of legislative efforts to chill the BDS movement, including by the New Jersey legislature.

New Jersey bill 2940 prohibits funds to state colleges and universities, persons or entities associated with a state institution of higher education that publically expresses as policy that they are divesting, condemning and/or opposing Israeli business and public officials for their actions against Palestinians. This bill clearly targets freedom of speech by imposing financial penalty for engaging in a non-violent political boycott, and demonstrates an attempt to censor speech. The U.S. Supreme Court held in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, that States have no right to prohibit peaceful political activity. When the government begins to police thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, we get into dangerous territory.

In spite of legality concerns, New Jersey is knowingly without care violating the First Amendment. Speaking with Luci Murphy, a prominent DC activist in the anti-South apartheid and BDS movement, the legislative frenzy signals that the tide is turning like in the anti-apartheid South Africa. "People see the terrible injustice and starvation, people see children being slaughtered, detained, and living in subhuman conditions, and the severe restrictions on freedom of movement." The United States public can no longer deny that every aspect of a Palestinian's life is controlled by a foreign government, even where they can live.

Such anti-boycott and political protest legislation like the NJ bills or opposition was not authored during the anti-apartheid South Africa. Even when mass protests against South Africa apartheid on college campuses demanding colleges divest from South Africa businesses and entities in the 1980s. However, now the targeting of colleges where debate on controversial issues and First Amendment rights are protected at its fullest extent is troubling, but also intriguing.

The youth and college students are the drivers of the BDS movement and undoubtedly must receive credit for the mass public attention on the atrocities committed at the hands of Israel against the Palestinian people. The youth and college students are in a unique powerful position in the BDS movement as compared to the anti-apartheid South Africa movement. Youth and college students are an important population for the business market, have immense organizing capabilities, and mastered technology and social media tools to change public opinion. The youth and college students' presence and demands both mainstream media and in the halls of Congress have never been felt as strong in any generation.

Thanks to college students we can no longer deny that nearly all Palestinians living in the Israel border are denied full citizenship benefits and/or have no permanent legal status at all. We, the United States can no longer deny the fact that it is legally and morally wrong to infringe on the sovereignty of Palestinians, where Palestinians have no right or say so on their own land, and in their own country. In the words of Luci Murphy, "Israel's policies and actions do not get that blanket overlook it once did." The tide is turning.

But I would be remiss not to highlight the bravery of these college students, who are subject to such hatred that many politicians could never endure. Across the United States, and right here in the New York-New Jersey tristate area, our college students who support BDS are under attack. Many students have been harassed, threatened with violence, blacklisted, denied educational opportunities and benefits, and subject to frivolous and unfounded complaints. They're future livelihood and career at stake simply because they exercise their First Amendment rights and take a stand for respect of human rights for all Palestinians.

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