July 20, 2017

Condemnation Grows for Bipartisan Attack on Free Speech Rights of People Supporting Israel Boycotts

A new bipartisan Senate bill would make it illegal for U.S. citizens to support international boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements. (Photo: Takver/Flickr/cc)

Lawmakers urged to reject bill that would punish Americans for supporting boycotts of Israel

By Julia Conley / 07.20.2017

A pair of bipartisan bills targeting boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements appear to have widespread support in Congress, to the dismay of civil rights advocates who say the proposals are an attack on free speech.

The Israeli Anti-Boycott Act targets the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement aimed at ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank through a refusal to economically support the country. The law would specifically ban support by any U.S. citizen for international boycott efforts against Israel.

The law would make supporting such boycotts punishable by a fine of at least $250,000, with a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.

Despite the clear breach of the First Amendment that the bills represent, 42 senators and 234 representatives from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors.

MoveOn.org tweeted about the bill’s bipartisan support on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to stand up for the free speech rights of all Americans, regardless of whether their views align with the official U.S. stance on Israel.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to senators on Monday, urging them to reject the bill and noting that Americans are and should remain free to offer or withhold economic support to whatever entity they choose, for whatever reasons they see fit. The ACLU wrote:

“There are millions of businesses and individuals who do no business with Israel, or with companies doing business there, for a number of reasons…Under the bill, however, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment – even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior.”

At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim noted that strong bipartisan support calls into question the claimed commitment to democratic ideals of many of bills’ co-sponsors.

“It is hard to put into words the irony of watching many of the most celebrated and beloved congressional leaders of the anti-authoritarian Resistance — Gillibrand, Schiff, Swalwell, and Lieu — sponsor one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills to appear in Congress in many years,” Greenwald and Grim write. “How can one credibly inveigh against ‘authoritarianism’ while sponsoring a bill that dictates to American citizens what political views they are and are not allowed to espouse under threat of criminal prosecution?”