WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of congressmen and senators has agreed on revisions to a bill targeting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel, hoping to alleviate concerns that their first draft infringed on free speech protections.
The bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, was drafted in 2017 as a response to a decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to blacklist companies operating in the Palestinian territories, defined by that body as all territory beyond the pre-1967 war Green Line.
If passed, this bill would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 – originally written to protect US companies from Arab League sanctions on Israel – to shield Israel and Israeli businesses from international boycotts of virtually any kind. Specifically, the legislation would criminally penalize US persons seeking to collect information on another party’s relationship with Israel in pursuance of a boycott.
But the American Civil Liberties Union – an NGO at the forefront of several battles against the Trump administration over the rights of immigrants, refugees and minority groups facing systemic discrimination – has said the bill would make worse the 1970s-era law, which in its view had already stymied the ability of individuals and companies to exercise their constitutional right to boycott.
Democratic drafters of the bill, including Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Rep. Juan Vargas of California, worked with the ACLU to
assuage its concerns.
The bill now makes clear that individuals subject to punishment under the boycott act would receive exclusively monetary penalties.
And only those working in an “official commercial capacity” to further the anti-Israel boycott movement would be exposed to charges under the act.
Furthermore, several clauses have been added to the legislation clarifying that it does not infringe on Americans’ right to free speech and assembly.
“Nothing in this Act or an amendment made by this Act shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” the text now reads, expressing support for “the right of citizens of the United States to constitutionally protected free speech, including the right to express their political views by engaging in personal boycott activity of their own accord.”