Free Palestine rally at the Capitol – Mississippi for Palestine speaks out as two bills seek to restrict free speech

Delana Tavakol, Nemer Afaneh and Ingrid Ali

By Christopher Young,
Contributing Writer,

Activist Ayesha K. Mustafaa

The United States’ support for Israel has been unwavering since its inception 75 years ago. The aid the United States provides to Israel eclipses aid to all other countries and has exceeded $300 billion, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The majority of aid is provided through the Foreign Military Funding grant program, and other aid is provided through importing arms from the US, missile defense and economic aid.
In December 2023, with the Israel-Hamas War two months in, the Gallup organization polled Americans, asking, “Do you think the United States supports Israel too much, about the right amount, or too little?” Thirty-six percent of respondents answered too much, 38% answered the right amount, and 24% answered too little.
While war is always complicated, the numbers of people – including women and children – being killed seem far less so. NBC News reported on March 12, 2024, that over 31,000 Palestinian people have been killed since the October 7, 2023, multi-pronged attack on Israel by Hamas, which killed approximately 1,200 Israelis.
Global outcry against the atrocities in Palestine continues to grow, according to numerous sources. Many groups are allied with the movement called BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel). Jewish Voice for Peace, IFNOTNOW, Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others have joined the movement.
Locally, Mississippi for Palestine held another Human Rights rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 9 a.m., March 13, 2024, with a solid hundred people in attendance. A major focus was on stopping the Israel Support Act of 2019 – HB768, which passed the lower chamber March 6, 2024, with a vote of 104-2, with sixteen absent or not voting.
The bill was transmitted to the Senate five days later, where it awaits action. The goal is to extend the repealer. This bill prohibits companies doing business with Mississippi from engaging in free speech about Israel or any form of boycotting. The companies are given a 90-day notice to cease anti-Israel speech/boycott –

Post-rally march around the Capitol PHOTOS BY CHRIS YOUNG

Senate Bill 2226 is nearly identical to HB768, extending the repealer for another four years, until 2028. It passed March 12, 2024, with a vote of 41-0, with eleven senators absent or not voting – before the event began, Attorney Blake Feldman spoke to reporters. “Today there is a call for a Global Day of Action for the genocide and ongoing actions by Israel, including documented starvation. We are here today to also call on our legislators to not pass two bills that are designed to punish Mississippians for exercising free political speech by participating in boycotts against Israel. The silence of our elected leaders at the Capitol coupled with legislation to intimidate people who support Palestine or speak out against Israel makes it especially egregious to us. We’re here today to exercise free speech to protect free speech. It’s especially important here, there’s no place for these bills in Mississippi given Mississippi’s history toward oppressed groups and boycotts.”

When asked by WAPT about Israel shooting themselves in the foot with their ongoing actions, Feldman responded, “I’m not an expert in geopolitics, but I would say that Israel’s standing in the world and its credibility has suffered, and the United States has also for providing political cover for what they have done.”
Candace Abdul-Tawwab served as emcee for the rally where numerous advocates and activists stepped up to the loudspeaker to share their voices.
A persistent theme was the growing number of children dying. CNN reported March 8, 2024, that the death toll for children since the war began is 12,800 – with airstrikes, malnutrition and dehydration being the causes.
Many speakers at the rally mentioned the hypocrisy of claiming a culture of life here in Mississippi, while trying to restrict free speech against a nation-state that is killing children daily.
Have we heard any of our legislators speaking out publicly about the atrocities in Palestine? By not casting a no-vote on these bills, aren’t they effectively turning a blind eye to not only the injustice in Gaza but also to the injustice of the Republican majority endeavoring to restrict free speech? Is the abundance of absent/not-voting indicative of apathy, feeling outnumbered by the majority, or a form of protest by chance? This question was put to Senator Hillman T. Frazier (D-27) with over 43 years in the Mississippi Legislature. When reached by telephone, he indicated, “There are some real problems over there in Palestine, and many of us are deeply concerned. By not voting on it is a way of protesting.”
In addition to not voting, perhaps we can look forward to some of this group coming forward to the microphone and telling how they really feel.
Again, there was not one no-vote on SB2226.

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