Many of us remember the power that lay behind our use of boycotts to end apartheid in South Africa. Across the nation we saw many companies and institutions agree to stop doing business with that country until they ended that abominable act of racial segregation. We got General Motors to take up the Sullivan Principles, named for Rev. Leon Sullivan who wrote them, in its refusal to do business there unless key conditions of equality were met.
Now we are contemplating similar strategies against manifest injustice and violations of human rights. Some want to do the same in Uganda and other nations with horrific "death to gays" laws. Still others are taking up boycott requests against Israel for its actions with respect to Palestinians.
And it is here, the boycott actions contemplated against Israel, that some California legislators believe are totally unacceptable. AB 2844 authored by Assembly Member Richard Bloom, began by denying California state contracts to any company engaging in a boycott of Israel.
That did not sit well with human rights activists that included a number of peace groups working on Israel-Palestine issues. From the Methodists, Presbyterians, and UCC, along with ACLU and human rights groups, this bill suddenly became a threat to OUR free speech and work to get companies to refuse to work in Israel and to stand for peace and reconciliation between these two long-time adversaries.
But the bill just got worse. To avoid the apparent one-sided nature of this dispute, the singling out of protection for Israel, AB 2844 expanded to refuse contracts to any company engaging in a boycott with any nation duly recognized by the federal government. In one amendment, AB 2844 eliminated all capacity for the types of actions that accomplished so much in South Africa and barred the way against future work anywhere for any reason.
AB 2844 is in Assembly Appropriations and is on 'suspense'. Often this is the burial ground for even excellent bills. AB 2844, however, has the support of some powerful friends. With enough persuasion, it might be pulled from suspense May 27th. We would like to have it fail.
This is not just about the impossibly hard issues of Mid-East peace any longer. It's about stripping both companies and us of our right to advocate for a method of persuasion that has been very successful in bringing parties to peace talks and, we hope, reconciliation. We cannot be deprived of our right to speak, to advocate, to persuade nor can companies - think General Motors - be threatened with grave economic hardship for standing with us in our quest.
Please ask Appropriations Chair Lorena Gonzales and the members of the Appropriations Committee to stand for our First Amendment rights in killing this bill. Please send emails opposing AB 2844 including your organizational support, your address and phone to the Chief Appropriations Consultant: Pedro.Reyes@asm.ca.gov.
If you want to FAX a letter, the number is 916-319-2181. You may address the FAX letter to Lorena Gonzales, Chair, Assembly Appropriations. To call her, the direct Capitol number is 916-319-2080, and her district office in San Diego is 619-338-8090.
This has consequences for all of us using economic leverage to bring nations and their people into new or renewed discussion, replacing violence with peaceful interaction. We have seen it work. We know the power. It is important that an ill-considered bill NOT be allowed to remove that capacity from our efforts.