Last week, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both known for spouting the vilest accusations against Israel and its American Jewish supporters, co-sponsored a resolution affirming “that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The text makes no explicit mention of the Jewish state, but Omar made clear in an interview what was already evident amidst all its rhetoric about free speech and American traditions: namely, that the resolution is intended to protect the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS). David French explains that the resolution rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of American law:
Individual anti-Semites have just as much a constitutional right to boycott Israeli products as individual racists have a constitutional right to refuse to patronize black-owned businesses. The fact that the Constitution protects such conduct doesn’t render it any less repugnant. . . . Supporters of BDS, however, must reckon with some inconvenient facts and some rather important laws.
[In 2014, for instance], I co-authored [a] letter . . . to Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, warning her that if the student-employee union voted to join the BDS movement, the University of California system risked serious violations of federal law, state law, and its own nondiscrimination policies. How? “The consequences of any boycott would be grave for Israelis working and studying alongside [union] members, subjecting them to scrutiny, reprisals, and retaliation merely because of their national origin or the national origin of their sponsors or affiliates.”
[Indeed an] analogy to white supremacists holds up quite well. Yes, you have a right to join the tiki-torch brigade and march to your heart’s content. You have a right not to watch professional sports because most of the athletes are non-white. But the instant you form or join a public accommodation—or the instant you join an arm of the state—your discrimination becomes unlawful.
The bottom line here is clear: when Ilhan Omar supports BDS, she shouldn’t be permitted to wrap herself in the American flag. The Constitution grants her the same rights it grants all other bigots, but for the movement to mean anything it has to violate the law, including the very non-discrimination statutes that were designed to lead the United States out of its Jim Crow past.