Jewish civil rights attorney: Florida governor signs “absurd” bill and visits “stolen Palestinian land”

Ron DeSantis in West Bank of Palestine / Israel

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Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet had a busy day Wednesday in Israel: a state cabinet meeting, signing a bill on anti-Semitism and a visit to an industrial park in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But a staff attorney for the group Palestine Legal is suggesting they might legally challenge the state over what she called the “absurd” bill.

Liz Jackson, who describes herself as a “Jewish civil rights attorney,” also accused DeSantis of visiting “stolen Palestinian land.”

“It’s shocking and disturbing for his constituency. He promised during his campaign to make Florida the most ‘pro-Israel’ state in the nation, and he is making good on that promise and sacrificing fundamental rights of Floridians as he goes, not to mention erasing Palestinians.”

SK: Governor DeSantis made a point today to go into a settlement that is inside the West Bank. I’ll read from a press release, he said: ‘The visit to Hub Etzion was also of historical significance as it marks the first time a Florida governor has cross the Green Line into Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, which is Israel’s biblical heartland.’ That might not really tell the true story about what Israeli settlements are inside the West Bank. What can you tells us more about this visit and what settlements are?

“Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and the US does not recognize these settlements as Israeli. They’re stolen Palestinian land, and they’re sites of tremendous violence, theft and dispossession of Palestinians and their freedom and their dignity.

“A lot of people talk about Israel as an apartheid state because there is a whole system of laws that treat Palestinians differently and deny them their rights based on their race and their religion, and privileges Jews based on their race and religion. So, for decades, U.S. policy does not recognize Israeli settlements and views them as illegal under international law, along with the rest of the world.

“So, for DeSantis to go in and refer to them as Judea and Samaria, and to sign agreements with universities in their settlements, is to undermine decades of US policy.”

SK: In this press release, Governor DeSantis said “BDS is DOA in Florida.” DOA means dead on arrival. But what’s BDS, and why is Governor DeSantis so obsessed with it?

“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] for Palestinian rights is actually alive and well and growing in Florida, across the U.S. and across the world. It is strategy to apply economic pressure on the Israeli state and on U.S. and other global companies and business in illegal settlements and elsewhere in Israel because they contribute and operate a system of apartheid and race discrimination and violence against Palestinians. So, it’s a strategy to hold Israel accountable to international law. And it’s growing and thriving, despite Governor DeSantis’ attempt to repress it.”

Listen to the interview here:

 

SK: And one of the efforts to repress it could be, today he signed HB 741 which was passed by the Florida Legislature. It deals with anti-Semitism. And in a lot of DeSantis’ statements, he has kind of equated anti-Semitism with BDS. And also he gave an example of a school, say a university, having an ‘Israeli Apartheid Week.’ You have used that word ‘apartheid.’ How are BDS and ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ commemorations – I think that you would disagree that that is anti-Semitism. Yet, it seems like the governor is implying that that would be covered under this HB 741 bill against anti-Semitism?

“Speaking as a Jewish civil rights attorney for a minute, the distinction between criticism of Israeli policy and the Israeli state government and anti-Jewish hate is very important. Many Jews throughout the world, including me and many others of all faiths, believe that Israeli policy towards Palestinians violates their human rights. And that we have an obligation to change U.S. policy to stop support for violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

“That is completely separate from anti-Jewish hate. Advocating for Palestinian freedom and justice, and equality is part of the universal call for equality. Educating our peers on college campuses is part of that advocacy work. Number one, it’s protected by the First Amendment. So the government cannot suppress it, even if it wants to. Number two, it’s something our government should be encouraging because it’s what we need to make all of our communities safer. Because anti-Semitism goes hand and hand with all forms of racism, and we have to resist them all together.

“The law that Governor DeSantis has just signed falsely conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. It’s absurd. It makes it a civil rights violation to call the Israeli state racist. Imagine if it was branded officially discriminatory to call the US, or any other government, racist. The law is absurd. It signs away protective free speech rights of Floridians, and it suppresses debate that we badly need about where our tax dollars are going. And I think it will be challenged.”

SK: Is your group planning on challenging it?

“We’re in discussions about that. Active. And there are a lot of people in Florida who are ready to challenge it.”