Broward Activists Fight Florida Bill Against Boycott of Israeli Universities and Colleges

No single debate is as overstuffed with bloody history and hot feelings like the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expected to unveil a plan to settle the century-long tug of war this spring, the heat is only rising. And now, stumbling into the picture, here comes the Florida Legislature.

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In December, the academic world went apoplectic when the American Studies Association, an organization of college faculty in school's across the country, decided it would boycott Israel's universities and colleges in protest of the country's treatment of Palestinians.

The move was part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) tactic, a long-used plan by Palestinian activists to hit Israel's pressure point.

The ASA's decision sparked condemnation and debate on colleges across the country.

Then politicians tried to get in their two cents.

In New York and Maryland, state legislators inked resolutions condemning boycotts at public universities. And now the Florida legislators are considering a similar bill to condemn the action.

Senate Bill 894, proposed by Broward Sen. Eleanor Sobel, expresses "opposition to the academic boycott of Israeli universities and institutions of high learning." For a group of Broward-based pro-Palestinian activists, the government's decision to weigh in on the issue is an overreach on the part of politicos.

"It attempts to stifle our free speech and infringes on our academic freedom because it keeps us from speaking on debates," says Noor Fawzy, a Broward-based national organizer with the Students for Justice in Palestine.

"Frankly, I'm offended as a Floridian," Fawzy says. "Many Floridians don't have jobs, they are fighting to get an education, they're struggling. And the authors of these resolutions are busy trying to attack our civil liberties."

Fawzy is no stranger to dumping gas on a debate. Back when she was a political science student at Florida Atlantic University, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants posted eviction notices on the doors in student hallways to protest the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. She was also active in the student protests against FAU's agreement to name its stadium after a prison company.

To protest the Legislature's boycott ban, Fawzy and about a half dozen other Palestinian supporters marched to Tallahassee to speak out when the bill was discussed in the Senate's education committee. But the legislation was temporarily postponed. Fawzy says she's ready to speak up when it gets back on the agenda this week.

An email to Sobel's office for comment late last week got no reply.

Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson