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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Alsheikh: Stop H.B. 339

Republican members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives are seeking to limit our freedom of expression when it comes to Palestinian human rights.

In Palestine, the situation is dire. In 2023, as many Palestinians have been murdered as there have been days in the year. As recently as this Sunday, Israeli settlers set fire to more than 30 Palestinian homes and injured hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a series of violent massacres, prompting even Israeli commentators to liken it to the pogroms of Jews in Eastern Europe and Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht. These settlers enjoy the protection of the Israeli government, and many go unpunished by Israeli courts. In fact, far from being punished, some now hold key positions in the Israeli government: Itamar Ben Gvier, a settler who has previously advocated for “death to Arabs,” is now the minister of national security, in charge of police in both Israel and the West Bank. 

Here in New Hampshire, the situation is also dire for Palestine. Republican members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives are sponsoring a bill to make organizing support for Palestinian human rights more difficult. 

The bill, H.B. 339-FN, would prohibit “the investment of state funds in any company participating in a boycott of Israel.” More specifically, it would ensure that “no funds from the retirement system or the public employee's deferred compensation plan” would be invested in companies that boycott Israeli products. This bill is being sponsored by the House’s extreme conservatives, including a representative who shared a document with other representatives claiming  that COVID-19 vaccines contain 5G chip implants and “tentacled creatures.” For a variety of moral and legal reasons, H.B. 339 is an atrocious overreach of state authority that we, as Dartmouth students and residents of New Hampshire, must oppose.

HB339 is designed to oppose the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, a campaign of nonviolent resistance against Israeli apartheid and occupation that seeks “to pressure Israel to comply with international law.” These violations of international law have been well-documented by international human rights organizations. In the words of Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch who recently spoke at Dartmouth: “It is undeniable that millions of Palestinians live today a reality of apartheid.” 

Boycotting is just one way the BDS campaign fights against these abuses, a nonviolent tool to spread awareness about the apartheid rule of Palestinians in Israel and Palestine. It is a completely legitimate form of political protest — historically, boycotting has been an essential tool in anti-apartheid and anti-racist campaigns across the globe, such as those in the United States and South Africa. As Israel is practicing apartheid, it is legitimate to boycott the state for its policies, such as the settlement program; Israel is not immune to such criticism just because it frames itself as a Jewish ethnostate. In reality, far from being antisemitic, the BDS movement is supported by many progressive Jewish groups in America, such as Jewish Voice for Peace. 

What’s more, boycotts are protected by the First Amendment as an act of free speech, especially in cases where the boycotts are for political expression. BDS boycotts are no exception: Federal courts in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Georgia have repeatedly ruled that anti-BDS legislation is in violation of the First Amendment. Though H.B. 339 doesn’t seek to directly make the boycott illegal, it would nonetheless qualify as state interference in public employees’ right to protest. A public employee in New Hampshire, on a state-funded salary, should have just as much right to participate in a boycott of Israel as a private employee should. New Hampshire Republicans have no right to tell anyone who they can and can’t politically support. 

Even if limiting our First Amendment rights was in the purview of the New Hampshire legislature, regulating international affairs is not. H.B. 339 is clearly designed to make New Hampshire take a stand in international politics on the side of the Israeli government. As we are a federalist country, international relations are the jurisdiction of the national government, not that of the state. There is no legal license for a handful of New Hampshire Republicans to make policy decisions that favor one international actor or another. 

This is an issue much broader than just Palestine. Anti-BDS bills have become a model for conservative legislators across the country seeking to silence environmental justice initiatives, Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. All of these bills are a clear overreach of state authority, but New Hampshire has luckily steered free of them — until now. For a state whose motto is “Life Free or Die,” that this bill is even being proposed is an insult to the Granite State.

H.B. 339 is an unconstitutional and morally bankrupt bill. It seeks to normalize Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by using economic coercion to limit the First Amendment rights of New Hampshire residents. As Dartmouth students, with our unique platform at a prominent institution in the state, we have an obligation to oppose H.B. 339 and all other anti-democratic, anti-peace initiatives. Students at the College were involved in the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s, and we must not stop now. I encourage all Dartmouth students to indicate their opposition to H.B. 339 by filling out the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ online testimony form, or by emailing the House Executive Departments and Administrative Committee to let them know of your opposition.