Take action to stop unconstitutional attack on freedom to boycott
What is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act?
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720/H.R. 1697) aims to quell the movement for Palestinian rights by penalizing companies and individuals that support the nonviolent tactic of boycott to hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinian rights. Specifically, the legislation seeks to amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit U.S. individuals and companies from taking action to comply with calls by the U.N. to boycott Israel or illegal Israeli settlements, with stiff penalties. H.R. 1697/S. 720 would provide legal support to illegal settlements and upend decades of established U.S. policy. The bill has been widely criticized, including by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups, for violating First Amendment protections for free speech and against political discrimination. Jewish Voice for Peace opposes the legislation and has issued a backgrounder for engaging members of Congress.
As the ACLU explains, “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act principally seeks to amend the Export Administration Act of 1979. That law prohibits “U.S. persons” — a term that refers to both individuals and companies — from taking certain actions to comply with or support a boycott imposed by a foreign country against another country that is friendly to the United States.”
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law and recognized as such by the U.S. government. Human Rights Watch recently issued a report calling for companies to cease doing business with Israeli settlements in order to comply with international law. Amnesty International last month said that “The international community must ban the import of all goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements.”
The legislation also goes against public opinion. According to a recent poll released by the Brookings Institution, 60% of Democrats and 46% of all Americans support sanctions or stronger action against Israel because of settlement construction. This is mirrored in the Jewish community where a 2014 poll found that 49% of American Jews under the age of 30 support boycott of the settlements. International bodies, human rights organizations, and increasingly public opinion recognize that the United States must put pressure on Israel in order to create a just peace with equality, human rights, and dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis. H.R. 1697/S. 720 does the opposite by seeking to amend U.S. policy in favor of permanent occupation.
It does not make it illegal to support the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. While this legislation is alarming, it is important not to exaggerate the potential impacts of the legislation and add to the chilling effect against advocacy for Palestinian human rights.
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 are members of Congress saying?
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand withdrew her sponsorship from the bill after hearing the concerns of the ACLU and numerous constituents. In response to questions from JVP members at townhalls in New York she said: “I would never support any bill that chills free speech… I will not support it in its current form.” She went on to say “I am concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not have a plan for peace, and doesn’t have a vision for peace.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked about the bill by a JVP Boston member at a townhall on August 4, 2017. She told the crowd: “I don’t support the boycott, I think the boycott is wrong. But I think outlawing protected free speech activity violates our basic constitution.”
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden faced multiple questions from constituents concerned about the bill. He defended his support for it, saying that he disagreed with the ACLU’s interpretation and that “the concern is that the boycott movement has grown.”
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?”
Watch a JVP Boston member ask Senator Warren to oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act: