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US State Department says boycott an “acceptable” tactic

Ali Abunimah


May 7, 2014




The US State Department has endorsed boycott as an "acceptable" way for US citizens to express their views and take action over what they see as violations of human rights in other countries.

The statement came during an exchange between State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki and journalists yesterday, over a boycott that has been launched by Hollywood stars against the luxury Beverly Hills Hotel.

The stars, including talk-show hosts Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres have called for a boycott of that hotel and other properties owned by the Sultanate of Brunei because of that country’s recent adoption of laws – misleadingly described as "Islamic" – calling for penalties including death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery.

In addition to the celebrity-backed boycott, the Beverly Hills city council passed a resolution condemning Brunei, but, the BBC reports, "the meeting was divided on whether to boycott the hotel. Many disagreed with Mayor Bosse’s decision to no longer attend functions there."

Brunei, with a population of under one million people, is a monarchy possessing vast hydrocarbon wealth that shares an island with parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.

As you can see from the exchange between Psaki and the journalists, the US government’s support for boycotts as a way for citizens to express themselves extends to all issues except Israel’s oppression of millions of Palestinians.

Associated Press journalist Matt Lee pressed Psaki on boycott of Israel. The transcript is below and the exchange can be seen beginning at 37:30 in the video above.

The United States appears to be unfairly singling Israel out for special impunity, and expressing the bigotry of low expectations that Israel cannot adhere to human rights standards even when pressed to do so.

Nonetheless, activists supporting the Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) can still cite US government endorsement of the tactic in principle. After all, if boycotts harm "dialogue" with Israel, as critics often claim, then why wouldn’t they also harm "dialogue" efforts in every other situation as well?

QUESTION: On Brunei, Marie took a couple of questions yesterday. The first was whether the Secretary had had any conversations with the sultan of Brunei or other Asian partners on this new law that would – could result in stoning for people convicted on homosexuality, also whether State officials stay at any Brunei-owned hotels when they travel. So do you have anything to add on that?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not spoken with the sultan since the law was announced. Our ambassador has relayed our concerns privately to the Government of Brunei. We can’t – obviously, we’re not going to elaborate more – further on those, but he has conveyed those concerns that Marie expressed yesterday.

In terms of – sorry. What was your second question again? QUESTION: The second question was whether State officials stay at hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei or other Brunei entities when they travel, and what your, I guess, broader take would be on the boycotts that have been happening of such hotels in Los Angeles.

MS. PSAKI: Well, a boycott is an acceptable way, of course, for private citizens to express themselves. We don’t take a position on this specific effort. It’s our understanding that the boycott specifically targets the Dorchester Collection of hotels, which has issued a statement that it does not tolerate any forms of discrimination of any kind. As such, the State Department has no specific restrictions prohibiting an employee from staying in a Dorchester hotel. QUESTION: Sorry. Can you say what you said again about boycotts being acceptable?

MS. PSAKI: I understand where you’re going to go with this, Matt. Obviously, there are –

QUESTION: You do?

MS. PSAKI: I do. BDS, I’m just going to guess.

QUESTION: I was thinking about the boycott of Papua New Guinea. No, of course, you’re right. Well done, well done. Are boycotts an acceptable way –

MS. PSAKI: I’m learning to predict you.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I – look I just want to – if you believe that boycotts are an acceptable way for private citizens to register their unhappiness with certain policy, you’re saying – is that a universally held view of the Administration? Or are some boycotts less acceptable or non-acceptable?

MS. PSAKI: There are certainly circumstances, Matt, as you know, given every country and every circumstance is different –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: – where we have a specific view by the United States Government. You’re familiar with our position on BDS. I don’t think I need to restate it. I was conveying, in this specific case that obviously, private citizens will take their steps. We have not taken a position. QUESTION: All right. Well, then, will you at least acknowledge that the Administration does not have a consistent position on boycotts being a acceptable way for private citizens to demonstrate –

MS. PSAKI: I will acknowledge, Matt, that every circumstance is different, and so I’m speaking to this specific circumstance. You’re familiar with our other view. I may have to go in a moment here, so let’s just get to a few more.

QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) –

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: – just a little bit? When Russia passed its law banning gay propaganda, there was a lot of condemnation from the State Department. So I’m just wondering if we should read anything into the fact that the Secretary hasn’t called the sultan of Brunei or that there hasn’t been the same kind of strong rhetoric about this.

MS. PSAKI: I would not. I think, around the world, our view is that LGBT rights are human rights, and that is an issue that the Secretary raises, President Obama raises, every Administration official raises, when it’s warranted. And that is no different. As you know, the Secretary just returned from a trip to Africa. We’ve conveyed our concerns here and we’ve publicly conveyed them pretty strongly here as well. So I’d point you to that and certainly would not read into it further.



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