The American Civil Liberties Union has become the top legal supporter of BDS — the antisemitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign whose mission is to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel.
“The antisemitic BDS hate movement has no greater asset today than the sophisticated legal support it receives from the American Civil Liberties Union,” said Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican, who sponsored anti-boycott legislation that was challenged by the ACLU. “The ACLU’s efforts… showcase a stunning embrace of anti-Jewish bigotry and blatant hypocrisy that all civil libertarians should reject.”
Zachor Legal Institute’s Marc Greendorfer adds the ACLU has “adopted a schizophrenic approach to anti-discrimination laws, challenging those laws meant to protect Jewish Americans while defending all other anti-discrimination laws, even those that compel speech that violates the religious beliefs of many Americans.”
When this once venerable defender of the rights of all minority groups goes all out to oppose legislation that bans entities engaged in boycotts of Israel from doing business with individual states or the federal government, it signals that this is no longer your grandmother’s ACLU.
In January, a federal district judge ruled in favor of the ACLU’s challenge to Texas’s anti-BDS legislation on the grounds that it violated a Palestinian-American contractor’s First Amendment right. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District is reviewing the lower court’s decision.
Texas argues that, in the interest of equality under the law, governments across the U.S. regularly and appropriately require entities to refrain from discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, religion or other classifications as a condition to receiving government contracts.
Texas’s anti-BDS law targets discriminatory conduct — not speech — and such discrimination is not protected by the First Amendment. This Palestinian-American businessman is in fact permitted to speak passionately and openly in support of a boycott of Israel.
The law does not ban boycotts of Israel by individuals or businesses, but only prevents them from being subsidized with taxpayer dollars through government contracts. Thirty-five states have similar anti-BDS laws with 22 requiring contractors to certify their compliance.
ACLU staffers advocate for BDS and partner with BDS activist groups. In a 2019 Twitter post, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, wrote that the boycott of Israel “is not only a constitutionally protected right, but also the right thing to do.”
ACLU senior staff attorney Brian Hauss, who has litigated BDS lawsuits, has given speeches to multiple pro-BDS organizations including the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, designated a terrorist organization by Israel last year.
Anti-BDS laws today are narrowly tailored anti-discrimination laws, similar to many other anti-discrimination laws that protect, among other categories of people, women, racial minorities and LGBTQ individuals.
Not to be confused with legitimate questioning of Israeli government policies, the BDS movement delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist and demonizes it as a Nazi-like apartheid state to create support for replacing the Jewish state with a Palestinian state, the 23rd Arab Muslim majority state.
This campaign is clearly antisemitic according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) guidelines adopted by over 30 countries including the U.S. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti candidly insists that Israel should be “renamed Palestine,” stating: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
So why does the ACLU, which fought against Japanese-American internment during World War II and racial segregation, now advocate for this antisemitic movement?
New leadership has turned away from traditional liberal values to embrace the radical politics of the Left.
In 2017, Executive Director Anthony Romero stated, “We will be moving further into political spaces across the country.”
Thus in 2018, for the first time in its history, the ACLU took an active role in the midterm elections, financing races and ballot initiatives opposing Republicans. It spent $800,000 on a campaign ad supporting Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial campaign and ran a $1 million anti-Kavanaugh ad campaign during his Senate confirmation for Supreme Court justice.
That same year, the organization issued case-selection guidelines admitting that it engages in viewpoint discrimination in selecting cases for litigation, even when it comes to free speech issues. It deploys its legal expertise only on behalf of those with positions that ACLU’s radical board supports, turning down cases that “undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners,” or “create distrust with particular communities.”
Their cases must advance their “mission and values” — values like immigrant and prisoner rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and racial justice. The ACLU explicitly promotes the view that “speech that denigrates [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to … impede progress toward equality.”
According to a 2021 New York Times article, the ACLU has emerged as a muscular and richly funded partisan, progressive powerhouse. The Times piece quotes David Goldberger who had argued for the free speech rights of Nazis to march in Skokie in 1978: “I got the sense it was more important for ACLU staff to identify with clients and progressive causes than to stand on principle.”
The ACLU, historically against segregation, now embraces dormitories set aside for Black and Latino students. It argues that police forces inherently promote white supremacy.
“We need to defund the budgets,” Romero said. “It’s the only way we’re going to take power back.”
According to law school professor Lara Bazelon in the Atlantic, in 2018 the ACLU, in return for a promised $3.5 million donation from Amber Heard, named Heard an “ambassador on women’s rights with a focus on gender-based violence” and ghostwrote her Washington Post op-ed in which Heard described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Her former husband Johnny Depp has sued her, claiming this article ruined his acting career. The ACLU’s willingness to help Heard attempt to transform herself into an abuse victim and victims’ advocate demonstrates just how dedicated this former civil rights organization is to the grievance politics of the Left.
At a time when antisemitism is being normalized among the “progressive” Left in America, it’s not surprising that the ACLU applies a double standard when it comes to antisemitism, drawing a distinction between acts and words that might have a political element and those they consider apolitical and discriminatory.
With every other form of hate, the ACLU makes no such distinction. For example, while the ACLU views verbal attacks to delegitimize and demonize Jews and Israel as protected political speech, it argues that speech referencing the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” is racist and promotes violence against Asian Americans.
The ACLU contends that critical race theory, which many believe to be a form of racism, should be taught in schools while discussions of antisemitism based on the internationally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition should be prohibited because the latter suppresses free speech.
The ACLU used to be a scrupulously nonpartisan defender of civil liberties. Today, it is just another hyper-partisan, hard-left political advocacy group intent on promoting a left-wing agenda in litigation, public commentary and, since 2018, in elections.
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Ziva writes and lectures about U.S.-Israel relations, U.S. foreign policy, Israel, Zionism, Antisemitism and BDS on college campuses. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Hill, New York Daily News, New York Observer, The Washington Times, American Spectator, American Thinker and Jerusalem Post. Read Ziva Dahl's Reports — More Here.
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