Congress Is Trying to Use the Spending Bill to Criminalize Boycotts of Israel and Other Countries

According to recent reports, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle are planning to sneak a bill criminalizing politically motivated boycotts of Israel into the end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill.

The bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is pushing Democratic leadership to include this bill, which has not moved forward thus far primarily because it violates the First Amendment. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are reportedly leaning toward slipping the text into the spending bill, which needs to pass for the government to stay open.

The ACLU has long opposed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act through its multiple iterations because the bill would make it a crime to participate in political boycotts protected by the First Amendment. Now, the bill’s sponsors are attempting to avoid public scrutiny by including the bill’s unconstitutional criminal penalties in must-pass legislation scheduled for a vote just days before Congress’ holiday recess — likely because it will be harder to pass in the new Congress.

Earlier versions of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would have made it a crime — possibly even subject to jail time — for American companies to participate in political boycotts aimed at Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories when those boycotts were called for by international governmental organizations like the United Nations. The same went for boycotts targeting any country that is “friendly to the United States” if the boycott was not sanctioned by the United States.

Last week, the ACLU saw an updated version being considered for inclusion in the spending bill (though this text is not publicly available). While Hill offices claim the First Amendment concerns have been resolved, and potential jail time has indeed been eliminated as a possible punishment, the bill actually does nothing to cure its free speech problems. Furthermore, knowingly violating the bill could result in criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million. Were this legislation to pass, federal officials would have a new weapon at their disposal to chill and suppress speech that they found objectionable or politically unpopular.

Consider, for example, if the United Nations advocated boycotting Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist, or Russia in response to its alleged election interference around the world. That would mean American companies, small business owners, and even non-profits, potentially some religious institutions, and people acting on their behalf in support of the boycott could be subject to criminal penalties.

This is a full-scale attack on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms. Political boycotts, including boycotts of foreign countries, have played a pivotal role in this nation’s history — from the boycotts of British goods during the American Revolution to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa. And in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the Supreme Court made clear that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts. Although the bill states that nothing in the act “shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the Constitution of the United States,” such hollow assurances do not undo its core purpose of penalizing First Amendment activities and silencing speech.

Members of Congress who support this bill should take note of the fact that just this year, two federal courts blocked state laws seeking to suppress boycotts of Israel. Those laws, like many copycats around the country, required state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel as a condition of doing business with the state. The courts agreed with the ACLU that these anti-boycott laws violate Americans’ First Amendment rights. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is another page from the same unconstitutional playbook.

Urge Congress to oppose the boycott ban

It is clear why congressional leaders fear an open debate on this legislation. Restricting Americans’ freedom of expression is rarely a popular policy. But that is no excuse for smuggling controversial new crimes into a last-minute appropriations package. If the First Amendment means anything, it’s that the government cannot suppress political expression it doesn’t like.

Whatever their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, members of Congress should oppose any effort to include this unconstitutional law within the omnibus spending bill. Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.

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Anonymous

I do not like this bill because boycotts are a well-known and legally supported method of political action in this country. I am not a BDS supporter because of the right of return for descendants of refugees. This is being applied in favor of Palestinians but not for others who have had to flee their countries of origin. I nonetheless believe American citizens should be allowed to join whatever boycotts they choose.

Anonymous

So what else is new?

Anonymous

It seems like the Jewish members of cCngress are more concerned with Israel than America.

smartfrank

EVENTUATLY ISREAL WILL COME AROUND LIKE AMERICA CAME AROUND WITH OUR BLACK POPULATION IN THE 1960

Anonymous

Israel wasn’t created to give Jews a homeland because the World decided it was the right thing to do. It was an act of discrimination that Churchill and US leaders because they didn’t want Jews to become UK and US citizens as shown and documented . They turned the ships aways from UK and USA and Churchill haphazardly drew lines on a map to divide what was mostly Palestinian land and thus began the migration of Eastern and Western Jews to the so called Promissed land .
A country should not be created simply because some Dogma written thousands of years ago and you don’t want certain kind of people to reside in your country .
Taking land by force from residents that had been living in a country and creating a new country on the basis of religion is immoral and wrong . It never works ! History has proven this repeatedly . The King of Morocco could have arrested Jews on behalf of Hitler as the request was made but he chose to give free passage to them instead . Had he knows that millions of refugees would be made out of Palestinians, he might have thought differently .
A country is made up of several different group of people and religion should never determine who the country belongs to but rather be lived in as equal citizens. If it’s true for UK and USA then it should apply to all coiuntries .

Anonymous

This is so wrong, my senator will not receive my vote again.

Anonymous

This article is about an agreement you have to sign and agree with as a contractor for govt procurements and grants that states you will not boycott is real or join in one as a representative or employee, ACLU PLEASE PUT THE LINK OR IMAGE OF THE DOCUMENT FOR THESE IDIOTS TO SEE WHAT THEY ARE ARGUING OVER

Anonymous

You cannot make/force people to like certain things and like certain people..FACT!!
I will not be told who I can and who I cannot like!!! FREEDOM!!!

Can you imagine even feeling the need to want a law passed making it illegal for people not to like you?

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