Updated August 8, 2019
The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019
What it does:
This bill directs the U.S. Department of Education to use the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which the U.S. State Department now uses on its website, when investigating complaints of antisemitism on campuses. The highly contested IHRA definition and examples falsely conflate political criticism of Israel with antisemitism and are so broad and vague they could encompass virtually all criticism of Israel and Israeli government policies as antisemitic. If enacted, this bill would likely be used to justify federal investigations into Palestine activism on campuses while adding no new legal protections for Jewish students. Substantially similar versions of this bill were introduced and failed to pass in 2016 and 2018.
The bill was introduced in the Senate in March 2019; an identical bill was introduced in the House in July 2019.
Resources on previous versions of the ASAA:
LA Times editorial: Enough already. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. June 8, 2018.
Our legal letter against the 2018 version of the ASAA
Palestine Legal statement: Lawmakers reintroduce federal bill aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy on campuses
Palestine Legal staff attorney Rahul Saksena’s Op-Ed in The Hill, Feb. 12, 2017
Palestine Legal staff attorney Liz Jackson’s LA Times Op-Ed, Dec. 6, 2016
Will Campus Criticism of Israel Violate Federal Law?, by Ken Stern, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2016
H. Res. 496 (Affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution)
What it does:
This non-binding resolution affirms the constitutionally protected right to participate in boycotts for civil and human rights. Emphasizing the long history of the use by Americans of boycotts to address injustices, the resolution also “opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad.”
This affirmative resolution stands in marked contrast to ongoing legislative efforts at the federal and state level to suppress advocacy for Palestinian rights.
Arab American Institute, Urge Cosponsorship of H.Res. 496
Palestine Legal, Tell Congress: Uphold the Right to Boycott for All, July 18, 2019.
Read the resolution: H. Res. 496
H.Res. 246 (Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel)
What it does:
This non-binding resolution condemns the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The resolution mischaracterizes grassroots efforts seeking justice for Palestinians as anti-peace and accuses the BDS movement of promoting “collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation” -- charges that human rights bodies have made against Israel for its actual treatment of Palestinians: the UN and the ICRC have found that Israel’s 12-year blockade of Gaza constitutes “collective punishment,” and a recent UN investigation concluded that Israeli forces had killed or gravely injured hundreds of Palestinian civilian protestors, including children, in besieged Gaza despite the fact that they posed no imminent threat.
Though it does not bear the force of law, the resolution’s language is a broad condemnation of individuals who boycott for human rights, raising concerns that it will reinforce and legitimize other legislative attacks on protected speech, including anti-boycott laws.
On July 23, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H. Res. 246, voting 398-17, with 5 members abstaining.
FMEP, Legislative Round-Up: March 29, 2019
Palestine Legal, Statement on House Anti-Boycott Resolution, July 24, 2019.
Josh Ruebner, Republicans push BDS bill to paint Dems as anti-Semites, and party leadership falls for the trap, May 17, 2019, Mondoweiss
Read the resolution: H.Res. 246
The Combating BDS Act of 2019 (S. 1 and H.R. 336)
What it does:
This bill is an attempt to “authorize” state and local governments to pass laws prohibiting the state from contracting with or investing in entities that boycott Israel. The bill says that such state and local laws are not pre-empted by federal law. It does not impose any new restrictions or prohibitions on the right to boycott.
Importantly, Congress cannot authorize state and local governments to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The U.N. expert on the right to freedom of opinion and expression has raised concerns that S.1 also would violate the United States’ international human rights obligations as an impermissible restriction on legitimate political expression.
The Senate passed its version of this bill on February 4, 2019 (77-23). The House version of the bill is expected to face more resistance, particularly from new members of Congress. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) have expressed support for Palestinian rights and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and hold positions on two of the committees that would consider the bill.
U.S. Senate’s First Bill, in the Midst of the Shutdown, Is a Bipartisan Defense of the Israeli Government from Boycotts, Jan. 5, 2019, The Intercept.
The controversy over laws punishing Israel boycotts, explained, Jan. 9, 2019, Vox.
Senate Accused of Endorsing 'McCarthy-Era Tactics' as 25 Democrats Join GOP to Pass Anti-Boycott Bill, Feb. 6, 2019, Common Dreams.
Click here for more info.
Take action: Via JVP, let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi know that you support Palestinian rights, and that she should continue to block such legislation that attacks our First Amendment right to boycott.
Read the bill: S.1
H.R. 221 (Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act)
What it does:
The bill upgrades the global antisemitism envoy to the ambassador level, which would impose a 90-day limit on how long the position can remain unfilled. The House passed the bill on January 11, 2019.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), has made clear that the bill aims to suppress criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights by labeling them anti-Semitic according to the problematic “3-Ds” definition that the State Department has adopted to identify antisemitism abroad, and which the Special Envoy would employ.
The Trump Administration left the position open for more than two years, appointing Elan Carr in February 2019 in response to this congressional pressure.
Click here for more info.
Read the bill: H.R. 221
H.R. 72 (Rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world)
What it does:
The resolution conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and attacks Reps. Tlaib and Omar because of their outspoken support for Palestinian rights. It also falsely characterizes on-campus advocacy for Palestinian rights as antisemitic. The resolution was introduced on January 23, 2019 by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY).
Read the resolution: H.R. 72
Previous federal bills
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Update: This bill failed to pass before the end of the congressional term.
What it tried to do:
This bill expands the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit U.S. persons (including companies, non-profits) from taking certain actions to further a boycotts of Israel in response to calls by the U.N., the E.U. These actions include participating in the boycott as well as "furnishing information" about the boycott. The original bill included severe civil and criminal penalties. A revised version of the bill, unveiled in March 2018, excludes the possibility of prison time, but still includes civil and criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million. The bill would also direct the Export-Import Bank to deny loans to companies engaged in politically-motivated boycotts of Israel.
Information for lawmakers:
Memo: 100+ groups call on Congress to oppose the amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act, by Palestine Legal and others
Blogpost: Cardin unveils amended, but still unconstitutional, Israel Anti-Boycott Act, by Palestine Legal
Blogpost & Letter: ACLU opposes federal bill aimed at boycotts of Israel as free speech violations, by ACLU
The New York Times editorial board criticized the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as “clearly part of a widening attempt to silence one side of the debate.”
Former staff attorney Rahul Saksena and Rabbi Joseph Berman of Jewish Voice for Peace discuss the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
Other federal bills and resolutions:
Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 - H.R. 644
Boycott our Enemies not Israel Act - H.R. 1572
To prevent the Thrift Savings Fund from investing in any company that boycotts Israel - H.R. 2645
Fair Treatment of Israel in Product Labeling Act of 2016 - S. 2474
Protecting Israel Against Economic Discrimination Act of 2016 - H.R. 6298
Condemning resolutions or policies calling for or instituting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars by institutions of higher learning and scholarly associations - H. Res. 318
Regarding politically motivated acts of boycott, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel - H. Res. 402
Protect Academic Freedom Act - H.R. 4009