BOYCOTT (2023, doc)

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s pretty obvious these times are quite tumultuous when it comes to political views, as well as social and religious beliefs. Of course, differences of opinions have always existed, however the focus by media attention has created new types of monsters … the vocal types who yell into microphones and cameras about how anyone who disagrees with their extreme view is a danger. Most of us understand that the real danger lurks in the things that get decided ‘quietly’ … legislation that impacts people just trying to live their lives and do their jobs.

Documentarian Julia Bacha presents an extraordinary look at this exact topic … legislation that restricts civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. We are informed that 33 states passed some form of legislation outlawing the boycotting of Israel, and punishing individuals and companies that don’t abide. Three specific cases are presented: a newspaper editor in Arkansas, a speech pathologist in Texas, and a lawyer in Arizona. Through this, we learn a great deal about how legislation affects those with viewpoints outside the accepted norm.

Bahia Amawi is a speech pathologist and mother of five in Austin Texas. She is also Palestinian. She refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and was subsequently fired from her position. Alan Leveritt is the founder and publisher of “Arkansas Times”, a free community paper that survives on advertising revenue. He refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and his advertising revenue from state colleges and organizations immediately stopped. Mikkel Jordahl was part of a state-sponsored program in Sedona, Arizona offering legal representation for inmates. He refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and he was fired. Jordahl began offering free counsel while his case made its way through the courts.

Brian Hauss, an ACLU lawyer labels this as a First Amendment issue, and explains that boycotts (whether politically motivated or even something as foolish as a fan boycotting a sport or team) have long been a crucial part of this country’s freedom, and a legal way to debate controversial issues. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than one year, and was a protest against racially segregated seating. This consumer-led boycott resulted in change for fairness and equity.

The difference here is that the legislation is politically driven to support Israel, a United States ally, in its occupation of Palestine. This tangled web brings antisemitism and political favoritism into the same argument. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) is a Palestinian movement with the intent to pressure Israel regarding its Palestinian occupation. The support of Israel may make sense for the federal government, but for a Palestinian mother living in the U.S. to lose her job because she won’t give up her right to boycott the Israeli presence seems to make little sense.

Ms. Bacha’s documentary is so effective because three smart people are able to clearly vocalize how this legislation requires them to carry an unfair burden. Watching Arkansas state senator Bart Hester explain his stance is painful and ludicrous, and offers little support for our trusting of politicians to understand issues prior to voting. This is certainly not a Republican versus Democrat issue, and it’s a solid reminder of Americans’ right to debate and disagree. Most of us agree that antisemitism is despicable, but freedoms are the fiber of the country. The use of music here is often annoying, but a tremendous amount of information is packed into these 70 minutes. It’s quite an education.

Premiering March 1, 2023 on AppleTV and Prime Video


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