Opinion

Pastors confuse free-speech, anti-boycott law – Stanley Robboy

The North Carolina Presbyterian pastors, J. Mark Davidson and Ron Shive disappoint me by their misguided “facts” expressed in their recent Herald-Sun op-ed.

Davidson, who leads a congregation in Chapel Hill, has long been critical of Israel. Five years ago, he was national chairman of Campaign to End the Occupation and led a campaign in which his church placed ads in the Chapel Hill buses calling for the USA to end its military aid to Israel.

These pastors now object to the Israel Anti-Boycott Law, HB 161, now in effect in our state. They are wrong on both of their concerns. They do not understand what is meant by constitutionally protected free speech nor does the bill conflict with international law.

The bill says nothing about an individual’s right to free speech. Davidson and Shive can freely continue expressing their opinions as may I. The bill only regulates what companies can do, i.e., “commercial conduct” (complying with or supporting illegal foreign boycotts). Our courts have affirmed multiple times that Congress has broad authority to put limits on international business conduct.

Speech, incidentally, may also lead to unintended and entirely negative consequences. The Presbyterian Church USA, of which Davidson is a prominent committee chair (Peace Discernment Team among others), participated in a call for a boycott of the company, SodaStream. The ultimate result? The company ultimately was forced to move its facilities, and some 500 Palestinians working there lost their jobs. Have the boycotters ever offered to help the employees they wished to protect, but seriously hurt?

The pastors confuse what “illegal” means under international law. In part, it deals with who occupied the land. Palestine has never been a recognized state. The people of Israel first inhabited the region several thousands of years ago, being forced into exile initially after the first temple was sacked in 586 BC and later the second temple destroyed. The name Palestine is not Arab, but rather the one Roman Emperor Hadrian gave to erase the name “Judea” after he defeated the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 AD. The Ottomans during their 400-year rule (1517-1918) had different names for the area (Holy land and Southern Syria). Even the Hamas Minister of the Interior and National Security, Fathi Hammad, considers the Palestinians’ origins to be from elsewhere (Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula), but not the land of Israel.

I puzzle why the pastors continue to focus on Israel and ignore the plight of their own faith. Christians are being persecuted everywhere throughout the Middle East, that is, except in Israel, where they maintain protected religious rights. Arab Muslims sit as elected members of the Israeli Knesset (Congress). The Institute for Contemporary Affairs lists more than 40 conflict and occupation situations worldwide, e.g., Afghanistan, Western Sahara, East Congo, Northern Cyprus, and the Crimea, just to mention a few. Where are Davidson and Shive in these situations? Not in one instance has the international community called any of these “occupations.”

The good pastors state “Countries thrive where free speech and collective action are protected." To me, that defines Israel. And despite that Davidson and Shive call for a boycott, today’s news is that Israeli exports rose more than 6 percent this year. If only our country’s economy might so prosper.

I agree a problem does exist, and the recipients are the Palestinian people. The problem lies with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian’s own leaders. How can a leadership shoot thousands of missiles (a goodly number went off course and landed among the Gazan populace, killing many) with the intention indiscriminately to kill men, women and children? Where else would a leadership build tunnels of terror, and store munitions in their children’s schools, strikingly violating International law? Why are terrorists given salaries for killing and we in the U.S. give the foreign aid used for these rewards? Maybe we should so pay those in our own prisons, although our citizens would assuredly find this unpopular. And perhaps most perplexing of all, why do members of the Palestinian high command prefer and go to Israel for medical treatment?

Please Pastors Davidson and Shive, answer these questions.

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