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Biden tells Arab Americans he opposes BDS, backs proponents’ free speech rights

In platform aimed at community, former VP restates opposition to annexation and support for two-state solution; vows to restore US-Palestinian relations

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at campaign event at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at campaign event at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in a platform released this week aimed at Arab Americans, while at the same time saying he backed the free speech rights of the movement’s supporters.

In a section titled “Defending the Civil Rights of All Americans,” the campaign reiterated Biden’s longstanding opposition to BDS, but vowed to “protect the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”

Biden, the text says, “does not support efforts by any democracy to criminalize free speech and expression, which is why he spoke out against Israel’s decision to deny entry to American lawmakers because they favor boycotting Israel. However, Biden has been unequivocal in condemning calls in the United States to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.”

The statement was referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s August 2019 decision to bar two BDS-supporting US lawmakers, Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, from entering Israel, based on a controversial 2017 Israeli law that allows the country to ban any foreigner who knowingly promotes boycotts of Israel.

In this July 15, 2019, photo, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, right, speaks as US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, listens during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Biden has long been against BDS, but has not taken a public stance on legislation debated on Capitol Hill to effectively criminalize it.

In July 2018, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill that would make it illegal to engage in political boycotts of Israel. The measure, which was strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, did not advance to the full House chamber.

The Biden campaign’s latest platform — called “Joe Biden and the Arab American Community: A Plan for Partnership” — that was released Saturday, also restates the former vice president’s support for a two-state solution and opposition to Israeli annexation of West Bank land.

“He will work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy,” it says. His policies will be grounded in a commitment to a two-state solution, where Israel and the future viable state of Palestine will live together in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

“Biden opposes any unilateral steps by either side that undermine a two-state solution. He opposes annexation and settlement expansion and will continue to oppose both as President.”

Israel had been pressing to annex Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley under the auspices of the Trump peace plan, but suspended the effort in exchange for the recently agreed normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The document also promises to improve US-Palestinian relations, which have withered under the Trump administration.

US Vice President Joe Biden meets with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 9, 2016. (Photo by FLASH90)

“As President, Biden will take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, consistent with U.S. law, including assistance to refugees, work to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, and work to reopen the PLO mission in Washington,” it says.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to cooperate with Washington since US President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv, saying it had forfeited its ability to act as a neutral broker in peace negotiations.

In response, the Trump administration cut off aid to the PA and the UN agency that oversees Palestinians, as well as shutting down the PLO’s DC office.

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