In an effort to crack down on the fast-growing global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, pro-Israel U.S lawmakers across both aisles are trying to pass a bill that criminalizes the boycott of Israel.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the goal of the BDS movement is to pressure Israel to end its violations of human rights and to comply with international law. According to the United Nations human rights council, Israel is the world’s top human rights violator.
Israel Anti-Boycott Act bills (S.720/H.R.1697) were introduced in both the House and the Senate earlier this year. Now more than 43 senators and 247 house members support these bills.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the law will make it a felony to boycott both Israel and its illegal settlements in occupied West Bank if the bills passed. In addition, U.S persons who boycott Israel can face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to one million dollars.
Dylan J. Williams of J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy group based out of Washington D.C., wrote a letter to Congress in regards to the Anti-Boycott Act.
“The penalties associated with these offenses are serious, potentially including substantial fines and prison time of up to 10 years,” Williams wrote. “This bill could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions the power to prosecute any American who chooses not to buy settlement products for a felony offense. That kind of authority should not be given to any administration, let alone one that has engaged in extreme rhetoric against political opponents, including threats to ‘lock [them] up.'”
The ACLU wrote a letter to members of the Senate urging them to oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
“We [ACLU] urge you [senators] to refrain from co-sponsoring the legislation because it would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs… This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”
This unconstitutional bill represents a serious threat to people’s right to boycott. Freedom to boycott is part and parcel of freedom of speech protected by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
About 23 states, including California, have already passed laws against boycotting Israel. California Assembly Bill 2844 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. This Califonia law requires those who enter into contracts with state agencies to certify that they are not boycotting Israel as well as not supporting the BDS movement or any of its programs. This straight up goes against freedom of speech.
I’m not in any way, shape or form implying that I boycott Israel, nor am I encouraging anyone to do so. However, I believe that freedom of speech is a fundamental human right that shouldn’t be undermined. I strongly oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. If you too think that the first amendment and freedom of speech shouldn’t be undermined, then go and write your representatives on Capitol Hill. Ask them to oppose any bill that may jeopardize your freedom of speech.