Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: W.Va. GOP bill stifles free speech

by Robert E. Smith

Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are Always Free), at least that’s what we’re told.

West Virginia Republicans led the crusade to pass HB 2933, legislation aimed to stifle free speech by penalizing businesses and public entities that boycott Israel in support of Palestinian human rights. Before the legislation was even adopted by the governor, Israeli police had already raided the Temple Mount at the start of Ramadan and blocked access to the Damascus Gate where Muslims would typically worship.

The escalation by Israel furthered tensions which fueled the recent  Israel-Palestine crisis. This tension culminated in the eviction of Palestinians from the occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, using flimsy legal arguments to ultimately violate International law.

Disappointingly but not surprisingly, only one Democrat delegate opposed HB 2933, which was never drafted with the intention to combat discrimination.

Replicated in over 30 U.S. states, the bill’s objective was always to squelch dissent and uphold Israel’s apartheid policies. The adopted legislation is unconstitutional, as it clearly violates the First Amendment, which includes boycott as a form of protected speech (NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.).

In 2005, Palestinian civil society made the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) with the purpose of:

  •   Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall.
  •   Recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinians to full equality.
  •   Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

BDS is affirmed in the platform of the Mountain Party and was affirmed by the Green Party of the United States the same year the call for BDS was issued.

We Greens take no issue with the Jewish people and have twice nominated a Jewish candidate for President of the United States. The party has long stood against discrimination and ardently condemns anti-semitism and islamophobia. It is with a clear conscience that we stand in solidarity with Palestinians and Mountaineers engaging in BDS tactics, which demands peaceful opposition to the Israeli government’s apartheid policies.

HB 2933’s passage in the House with only one “nay” vote and unanimous support in the Senate is a blatant reminder that the minority party, once again, fails to serve as effective opposition to assaults on constitutional freedoms and human rights. The members of the West Virginia Legislature at the present time are  — at best — tone deaf to the conditions facing oppressed peoples around the world, but most likely are woefully ignorant of geopolitics and international law.

Robert E. Smith is the communications director for the  Mountain Party.