U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, is the chief Senate sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, a widely-criticized, AIPAC-backed bill that would prohibit – and in some cases criminalize – actions taken to comply with or support a boycott for Palestinian rights “fostered or imposed” by international governmental organizations. (For more about the bill, click here.)
Senator Cardin disputes the claim that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would prohibit political speech or conduct, such as participation in a boycott for Palestinian rights. Instead, Senator Cardin asserts that the bill merely prohibits “commercial conduct” which is afforded a lower level of constitutional protection than political speech.
Senator Cardin’s reading of the bill is wrong, and 100 civil and human rights organizations across the country have called on Senator Cardin and other politicians to withdraw the bill.
The Senator should provide answers to the following three questions:
Question 1: Criminalizing Political Speech
Senator Cardin, despite your claim to the contrary, some political speech activities would be prohibited by the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Consider the situation of a staff member of a human rights organization that distributes research on companies operating in illegal West Bank settlements. Wouldn’t this human rights advocate be in violation of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act – and possibly face up to twenty years in prison – if their intent is to support a call by an international governmental organization to boycott settlements?
Question 2: Supporting the Trump Agenda
Senator Cardin, do you honestly believe that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act will not be used by the Trump administration – and future presidential administrations – to justify surveillance, investigations, and possible prosecutions of individuals who support boycotts for Palestinian rights, with Arab and Muslim communities facing the brunt of this overbroad enforcement?
If enacted, the president will be charged with enforcing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. The current president has made no secret of his disdain for political dissent, and he ran on an election platform that was openly hostile towards Palestinian rights and Arab and Muslim communities. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act will surely be embraced by the Trump administration as yet another tool to crush dissent and to criminalize Arab and Muslim communities. Senator, we encourage you to read our report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech, if you have any doubt about the increased scrutiny these communities already face for supporting Palestinian rights.
Question 3: Chilling First Amendment Protected Speech
Senator Cardin, how can you defend the constitutionality of this bill when its intention is, and it has already had, and will continue to have, a chilling effect on First Amendment protected advocacy for Palestinian rights?
The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. Boycotts for Palestinian rights are no different. Yet, in the past two years, 21 states have enacted laws aimed at punishing participation in political boycotts for Palestinian rights. Together with these state laws, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act will create a severe chilling effect on people across the country who are otherwise inclined to support First Amendment protected boycotts for Palestinian rights, or who are merely curious to learn more. The wave of anti-boycott legislation, promoted by Israel advocacy groups like AIPAC to undermine the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States aims to send a clear signal that support for Palestinian rights is disfavored by our government and is potentially punishable.
Senator Cardin, we look forward to hearing your answers to these questions, which have been adapted from our statement against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. The statement has been endorsed by 100 national and local civil and human rights organizations.