Bill Making It A Federal Crime to Support BDS Sends Shockwaves Through Progressive Community

Philip Weiss
Jul. 24, 2017

There is only one story in the news, for followers of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and that is Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim's report at the Intercept yesterday on new legislation in the Congress that would criminalize support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Yes, criminalize.

The bill is such a crude example of overreach by the Israel lobby that it is sure to backfire on its supporters as Greenwald and Grim's report ricochets around the Democratic Party:
But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats -- wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

The proposed measure, called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), was introduced by Cardin on March 23. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the bill "was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee." Indeed, AIPAC, in its 2017 lobbying agenda, identified passage of this bill as one of its top lobbying priorities for the year:

The bill's co-sponsors include the senior Democrat in Washington, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, his New York colleague Kirsten Gillibrand, and several of the Senate's more liberal members, such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Maria Cantwell of Washington.
There is similar legislation in the House, also sponsored by liberal heroes.

And the ACLU has opposed the act. It writes:
The ACLU wrote to members of the Senate to urge them to oppose and refrain from co-sponsoring the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697/S. 720). The impacts of the legislation would be antithetical to free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment and we urged members to oppose the legislation in the absence of significant revisions.
The Intercept notes that it was valiant of the ACLU to oppose the measure– "Even the bravest of organizations often steadfastly avoid any controversies relating to Israel" — and then does the yeoman journalistic labor of asking liberal Congresspeople whether they accepted the ACLU position. So far, no takers!

The Intercept also documented that a lead supporter, Senator Ben Cardin, had no idea what was in his bill, "particularly insisting that it contains no criminal penalties." The piece contains an audio of an interview with Cardin.

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