By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Dallas attorney Charles Pulman, Israel advocate and founder of Why Israel Matters, completed a panel of four on Al Jazeera on Tuesday to debate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
Joining Pulman on the pro-Israel, anti-BDS side was Mark Levenson, chairman of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. The pro-BDS side was represented by Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal and Josh Ruebner, policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
This was a first for Pulman, a longtime Israel advocate who has spoken in many settings. He was contacted Thursday by Al Jazeera after they read an online story about Pulman’s appearance in St. Louis earlier this month, posted by the St. Louis Jewish Light.
Pulman and Levenson submitted a fact-driven approach to the anti-BDS case.
“The BDS movement’s goal is to delegitimize Israel and to eradicate the one Jewish state in the entire world,” Levenson said.
Dima Khalidi asserted that BDS is a growing, grassroots human rights movement that frightens Israel.
“This is a nonviolent way of making collective change,” she said.
Khalidi likened the BDS movement to other civil rights movements of the past such as the anti-apartheid movement of the ’80s and the Montgomery bus boycott.
Levenson and Pulman were quick to disagree, pointing out that there are numerous human rights violations in other countries, including Turkey, Iran, and Sudan; however, the BDS movement focuses only on Israel.
“Palestinians in Israel have levels of educational attainment, literacy, medical care and per capita income that really exceed those of every other Arab country,” Levenson said.
Pulman added, “Why don’t we go back and talk about what the real aim of BDS is. If you look at what the BDS campaign has published and its three aims, the first one is to end what it calls the colonization of all Arab lands. It doesn’t say the West Bank. It doesn’t say Gaza. It doesn’t say the Golan Heights. All Arab lands, because the Palestinian leadership considers all of Israel to be Arab lands.
“If you really drill down into what the BDS campaign is about, It’s about ending Israel as a Jewish state. And about denying the Jewish people their own sovereignty.”
Pulman explained that he has heard the founder of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) speak in Dallas and he said that he’s not in favor of two states. He’s only in favor of one state.
“What BDS unfortunately doesn’t seek is to improve the lives of the Palestinians and to seek peace between the Israelis and Palestinians so there can be lasting peace and justice and equality for both people in that region of the world.”
Show host Femi Oke shifted the conversation to recent legislative discussions surrounding BDS.
The American Civil Liberties Union has alleged that anti- BDS legislation seeks to oppress people’s right to free speech. It is challenging anti-BDS legislation on First Amendment grounds.
Ruebner called anti-BDS legislation “the most draconian legislation on any issue ever introduced in Congress.”
Ruebner said the anti-BDS legislation is “in response to the list the U.N. will be putting out next month of Israeli companies doing business in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and global corporations that are complicit in support of those settlements.”
Levenson explained that the legislation is “prohibiting economic conduct; there is no prohibition on free speech. Any business can hate Israel, any business can hate whomever they want. What they can’t do is, they can’t discriminate in the conduct of their business.”
Pulman explained that the federal bill that’s pending is an extension of the Export Administration Act of 1979.
“The Anti-Israel Boycott Act will extend the existing law to boycotts called for by international organizations including the U.N. and the European Union. That’s all it does,” Pulman said. “It isn’t a new law, it’s an extension of an existing law because of the anti-Semitic enabling resolutions that are being passed by the U.N. condemning Israel for everything under the sun.”
Ruebner believes that the fact that there are Jewish people who live in Israel is immaterial.
“BDS is nothing more than a global response to oppression,” he said.
As the show wrapped up, Pulman clarified Texas’ recent legislation.
“Texas (legislation) says that if you engage in discriminatory business conduct with regard to Israel, then the State of Texas is not obligated to do business with you … Texas legislation does not ban BDS, doesn’t ban hate speech and doesn’t ban boycotts. People are free to engage in that. In fact, Palestine Legal’s website even acknowledges that they can continue to boycott. All it (the law) says is the State of Texas has no obligation to support a business that is engaging in blatant discriminatory, anti-Semitic acts toward an ally of the United States that is consistent with Federal law.”
After the show, Pulman told the TJP that he was glad that Al Jazeera brought the topic to light. He believes that the show’s co-hosts Oke and Malika Bilal were mostly fair.
“I enjoyed it,” he said.
View video online: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201711140214-0025544