Julia Bacha’s impressive documentary Boycott takes you down a rabbit hole that is truly disconcerting as it reveals how those in the US have unknowingly lost some of their civil liberties. A consuming and essential watch.
Within the United States, thirty-three states have introduced anti-boycott laws, which require individuals and companies seeking public contracts to sign a pledge promising they will not boycott Israel. After a journalist in Arkansas, an attorney in Arizona, and a speech therapist in Texas are told they must choose between their jobs and their political beliefs; they launch legal battles.
What allows Boycott to stand out is the fact that our three subjects are all from very different backgrounds. Bahia Amawi is a Palestinian American who quite understandably boycotts Israel, but is also someone who is the only speech pathologist in her area in Texas who can also speak Arabic, so we literally see her government being more willing to spite young children and their education for more money. With Alan Leveritt, who runs the Arkansas Times, he is less concerned about the anti-boycott law and its connection to Israel than he is that it is a blatant restriction of free speech. Yes, he will lose advertising payments by not signing the contract, but free speech is far too vital to protect.
Finally, we also have Mik Jordahl, who is a lawyer in Arizona; he is swayed by seeing first-hand what is happening on the West Bank, appalled he refuses to sign the new contract. Yet, to ensure that those who he is helping as a lawyer still get the correct representation, he is forced to work for free, at a tremendous financial cost to himself. Together they make an unlikely trio across three states, yet each story and journey through their battle with their own state is enough for their own documentary. However, combined, we are utterly compelled.
Interestingly, Julia Bacha hasn’t just gone with solely focusing on the three subjects with the lawsuits. We spend some time with one of the representatives that pushed for the bill to come to the floor. We are given a broader scope of the issue at hand by seeing how and why the anti-boycott laws were being implemented. Not only do we see the legislative side, but we also even get a glimpse of what this all means across in Israel with a reporter informing us of how the Israeli government is bypassing United States laws regarding foreign interference. The creation of a firm that filters the money from one government to the next is as ingenious as it is concerning. By throwing all of these efforts under the guise of not being anti-Semitic, it both villainises those who oppose it and keeps others from delving deeper into it all.
Bacha also points out that hundreds if not more people have signed their contracts to work for all of these governments who may not have even noticed the fine print. Remarkably this is not a right or left issue. As shown in great detail by our director, both Republicans and Democrats have pushed through their bills and some more than others under that guise of not wanting anyone they have a contract with to be “anti-Semitic”. Of course, no one should be, but it blurs and hampers that intent with a law like this. This is even showcased at the beginning of Boycott with Bacha interviewing a Rabbi from one of our three highlighted states. He is as surprised as anyone about it.
The three storylines coupled with Bacha explaining why this is possibly happening, and the power that lobbyists have and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have. They have spread themselves throughout the US in such an insidious way that unless you were directly impacted like the three in Boycott, you might never have noticed. When you think about it, it is truly terrifying when we are meant to place some semblance of trust in those who control governments.
For a film that runs at a mere 70 minutes, Boycott seems to throw an awful lot of information in our direction, and due to the skill of its director, we never feel overwhelmed. Sometimes a documentary is afraid to show the full scope of the issues at hand, or rushes to them too quickly, with Bacha, she paces it all to perfection. The slow growth of how she opens us up with more revealing details is as expert as they come. This is a fascinating documentary and one that is difficult to shake.
Boycott will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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