Take action to stop unconstitutional attack on freedom to boycott
2 Aug 2017: NOTE: Breaking News: Sen Gillibrand has removed her name as a co-sponsor! Please call to thank her: 202-224-4451
20 July 2017
One of the most recent, and most pernicious, pieces of anti-boycott legislation at the federal level is getting renewed attention right now. On July 18, the American Civil Liberties Union released a letter to the Senate and a letter to the House, urging them not to co-sponsor the bill because it unconstitutionally discriminates against people “for no reason other than their political beliefs.” The Intercept published an article highlighting how “the criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the west.” Brooklyn For Peace opposes the legislation and is making available a backgrounder from Jewish Voice for Peace for engagement with Congress.
What does the bill actually do?
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720/ H.R. 1697) is the latest, and most extreme, of a series of unconstitutional anti-boycott legislation at both the federal and state level. The law aims to quell the movement for Palestinian rights by penalizing companies and individuals engaged in commerce for using the nonviolent tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions to hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinian rights. First introduced in March, this bill seeks to amend two laws – the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 – to penalize companies that participate in boycotts, and to preempt efforts by international governmental organizations from complying with international law and calling for an end to trade with Israel’s settlements or companies that operate in the settlements. Of course, as the ACLU letter points out, millions of people and businesses do not do business with Israel for any number of reasons. This law would only punish those whose lack of business ties to Israel or the illegal settlements is based on their political beliefs — which is why it is discriminatory in addition to being a threat to free speech.
The bill opposes the creation of a database of Israeli settlement companies by the UN Human Rights Council and any efforts to boycott those companies’ products. The bill categorizes violations as felonies, and the potential penalties are steep: a minimum $250,000 civil penalty and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years imprisonment.
What doesn’t the bill do?
It does not make it illegal to support the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. It does not make it illegal for individual consumers to boycott Israeli or settlement products. While this legislation is horrible, it is important not to exaggerate the potential impacts of the legislation and add to the chilling effect against advocacy for Palestinian human rights.
Your Right to Boycott
Boycotts have a long history as a tactic to advance social justice and equal rights, and are protected under constitutional law. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment.
What can you do?
- See if your Member of Congress is a co-sponsor of the legislation. The co-sponsors in the Senate are listed here and the co-sponsors in the House are listed here.
- Call your senators and representatives! Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to get connected to your members of Congress. Tell them:
“Hi, my name is _______, and I’m a constituent. I’m calling to express concern about your support of / urge you not to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720 for Senate/ H.R. 1697 for Representatives). This bill discriminates against political beliefs by criminalizing efforts to use boycotts to hold Israel accountable to international law, and goes against U.S. policy by legitimizing illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Can you assure me that the [Senator/Representative] won’t support/will withdraw support from this bill?”
NOTE: Breaking News: On August 2, 2017, Sen Gillibrand removed her name as a co-sponsor! Please call to thank her: 202-224-4451