First Senate Bill Favors Israel Over Free Speech

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Updated February 7, 2019:

On February 4, 2019, the Senate voted to pass the Combating BDS Act of 2019 by a measure of 77-23. The measure was opposed by a number of presidential hopefuls, including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - indicating a growing recognition that their constituents care about Palestinian rights.

The House has not advanced its own version of the bill (H.R.336), which is expected to face more resistance in the lower chamber of Congress. Initial consideration of the anti-boycott bill would fall under the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services committees. The first representatives in Congress to officially support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement each sit on one of these committees: Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respectively.

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.

Photo credit: JVP

Photo credit: JVP

January 7, 2019: On the heels of three failed federal bills targeting the movement for Palestinian rights, Sen. Marco Rubio has reintroduced a bill seeking to encourage local laws that infringe on the right to boycott companies that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses.

The new measure, called the Combating BDS Act of 2019, explicitly authorizes state and municipal governments to enact anti-boycott laws. It is the U.S. Senate’s first proposed bill of the 2019 legislative session. The bill is distinct from the recently defeated Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IABA), which would have criminalized actions that further certain boycotts of Israel.

“The Senate’s first bill this term encourages state and local governments to violate the U.S. Constitution. Like its unsuccessful predecessors in 2016 and 2017, this bill should fail,” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Zoha Khalili. “Congress cannot legislate away our First Amendment right to boycott—not directly through laws that criminalize boycotts, nor indirectly by encouraging states to do so.”

Lawmakers and governors in twenty-six states have adopted anti-boycott measures. The bill provides a congressional stamp of approval to these anti-boycott laws, but does nothing to address the legal problem at the heart of the laws: They infringe on the First Amendment-protected right to engage in political boycotts.

Federal courts in Kansas and Arizona have found the anti-boycott laws in their states unconstitutional. The Kansas legislature amended its law to dismiss the lawsuit, while Arizona has filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit. Lawsuits are also pending against anti-boycott laws in Texas and Arkansas.

Three federal bills targeting the movement for Palestinian rights—the IABA, the misleadingly named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA), and a previous version of the Combating BDS Act—were recently defeated through legislative inaction before the end of the last congressional term. All three bills were widely criticized as violating rights protected by the First Amendment. Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein condemned efforts to insert provisions of the IABA into a must-pass spending bill in the final weeks of 2018.