Legislative hearing — or legislator hectoring? Del. Kramer vs. Freedom2Boycott

Open letter to Delegate Ben Kramer from Freedom2Boycott leadership team member Alison Glick; click for full text.

Freedom2Boycott in Maryland has released excellent, point by point answers, by chairperson Alison Glick, to Maryland Delegate Ben Kramer’s questioning of Peace Action Montgomery’s Whit Athey at the November 18th “legislative priority hearing” in Rockville.

As such, the statement serves as a kind of “Frequently Asked Questions” document about the “BDS” (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against the Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights abuses; everyone concerned about the Middle East and United States foreign policy should read it.

But the Freedom2Boycott document is also simply a model of civil, democratic discourse — in stark, unfortunate contrast to Delegate Kramer’s supercilious, hectoring performance (video) following the Freedom2Boycott speaker panel warning of possible legislation to penalize boycotts of Israel.

The entire episode showed just how distorted legislator-citizen relations can become when legislators believe they are entitled to stamp out speech or bully speakers they consider illegitimate.  After all, what is the purpose of a “legislative priority hearing” like the one the Montgomery County delegation convened on November 18th in the first place?  According to a letter sent by Delegate Kirill Reznick, such hearings are

“….used as an opportunity for us to hear the concerns and priorities of Montgomery County residents as we head into the 2016 session.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)

That is, when you hold a hearing, some, well, hearing is supposed to happen.  Not during Delegate Kramer’s eight minute harangue, though, which worked out to nearly 3 minutes per “question” asked — i.e., “questions” lasting about as long as most mere county residents got to speak —  and in which Delegate Kramer repeatedly cut off answers to page-long statements with imperious interjections like “it’s a simple question – yes or no?”  It was as if the County Council chamber in Rockville had suddenly turned into some kind of Twilight Zone episode of a House Un-American Activities Committee.

Summing up: at a hearing about Montgomery County priorities, a group of county citizens presented good reason to believe their priorities would be run over roughshod — and one of their own county’s delegates proved them right.

This, it seems, is how many BDS opponents would prefer the whole Israel boycott debate be disposed of: preferably made illegal and/or too costly to pursue — but until then filibustered, stigmatized, and hectored.  That, too, is one way free speech is invited to die: not with a bang, but with a bombastic scolding — followed, this Baltimore news report would have it, by legislation to finish the job (via state penalties against corporate BDS supporters).  It’s not going to work.  As Ms. Glick closes:

…we welcome public criticism and debate of our views, but instead we are met with attempts to legislate our viewpoints out of the public discussion. As Americans and Marylanders, we demand better from our government and repeat our request that this expected legislation be strongly opposed.

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