Last month, the sponsors of the widely-criticized Israel Anti-Boycott Act amended the bill to address some of its most egregious elements. In a statement announcing the amendments, the sponsors said, “this new version of the bill clarifies that nothing in the legislation restricts constitutionally-protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies.”
The sponsors tacked a “First Amendment savings clause” onto the revised bill, but unfortunately, this clause does nothing to save an unconstitutional bill that was designed to punish and chill First Amendment-protected speech. The bill as written would still punish with criminal financial penalties a variety of actions taken to comply with, further, or support boycott calls by international governmental organizations like the UN or the EU.
Last summer, anticipating amendments, we wrote, “[a]mending the bill does not resolve its underlying problems, including the chilling effect it will have on constitutionally-protected speech. The bill must be rejected.” Over one hundred groups recently joined us in sending this message to Congress.
The purpose of the bill is to combat campaigns to boycott, divest from, or sanction (BDS) Israel until it respects Palestinian rights and abides by international law. Those who support BDS embrace boycotts as a tactic towards the political goals of achieving freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians, and any effort by the government to censor, suppress, or chill such boycotts violates the First Amendment.
We don’t need to look far for evidence of the bill’s purpose. The bill itself notes its intention to oppose “actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” in its “Findings” section. And AIPAC, the lobbying group fiercely advocating for the bill’s passage, lists the bill on its website under the banner “What Action is Congress Taking to Combat the BDS Movement?”
Below, we have compiled a non-exhaustive list of statements made by the bill’s chief supporters in Congress that also highlight the bill’s objective to combat political boycotts.
U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, Democrat from Maryland
“The United States should bring its foreign policy and its economic institutions, its relationships, and its leverage to bear to combat boycott, divestment, and sanctions actions against Israel. We should not stand idle when foreign countries or international governmental organizations use BDS tactics to isolate one of our key allies. We cannot allow these attempts to bypass direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to go unchecked.” (Press Release, March 3, 2018).
U.S. Senator Rob Portman, Republican from Ohio
“This bipartisan legislation sends a clear message that politically-motivated boycotts of Israel are unacceptable to the United States. I’m pleased to introduce this bill that says the United States stands against illegitimate attempts to isolate our ally Israel or impose policy solutions to issues that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” (Press Release, March 23, 2017).
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, Republican from Illinois
“The BDS movement is nothing more and nothing less than the latest attempt by Israel’s enemies to destroy the Jewish State. After their repeated military conquests ended in failure, they have now turned to economic means in the hopes of achieving the same outcome. Thankfully, the United States Congress – and the American people – will not stand for it.” (Press Release, March 23, 2017).
U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, Democrat from California
"The United States must make it clear that it will not tolerate any international efforts to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. Opponents of Israel cannot continue to threaten its security or force a solution between Israelis and the Palestinians. We must continue to support Israel and reaffirm our long-standing commitment to strongly oppose any efforts that delegitimize and undermine our ally." (Press Release, March 23, 2017).
U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, Republican from Idaho, chair of the Senate Banking Committee
“I applaud the hard work of Senators Portman, Cardin and Brown in putting together this bipartisan bill to combat Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) efforts targeting Israel.” (Press Release, March 3, 2018).
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee
“I strongly support Israel and measures to combat BDS efforts directed against Israel. I commend Senators Cardin and Portman on this new version of their anti-BDS legislation, which signals progress in their efforts to ensure strong enforcement and clarify the activities covered by the bill. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to move this legislation forward.” (Press Release, March 3, 2018).
For further information on why the amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act is unconstitutional, see our memo opposing the bill, available here. The ACLU also opposed the bill in a letter to senators, available here.
To let your member of Congress know that they should be protecting our First Amendment rights, not shielding Israel from scrutiny, visit the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, here.