News Release

Senate Job One: Attack First Amendment Rights of Israel Critics

Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept report: “U.S. Senate’s First Bill, in Midst of Shutdown, is a Bipartisan Defense of the Israeli Government from Boycotts.”

They write: “The bill is a top legislative priority for AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. In the previous Congress, that measure was known as S.170, and it gives state and local governments explicit legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel. As the Intercept reported last month, 26 states now have enacted some version of a law to punish or otherwise sanction entities which participate in or support the boycott of Israel, while similar laws are pending in at least 13 additional states.”

A lead sponsor of the bill is Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and, The Intercept reports, it is “designed to strengthen the legal basis to defend those Israel-protecting laws from constitutional challenge.

“Punishment aimed at companies which choose to boycott Israel can also sweep up individual American citizens in its punitive net, because individual contractors often work for state or local governments under the auspices of a sole proprietorship or some other business entity. That was the case with Texas elementary school speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who lost her job working with autistic and speech-impaired children in Austin because she refused to promise not to boycott goods produced in Israel and/or illegal Israeli settlements. …

“With the seven Democratic co-sponsors, the bill would have the 60 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — who supported Sen. [Ben] Cardin’s far more draconian bill of last year and is one of the Senate’s most reliable AIPAC loyalists — also plans to support the Rubio bill, rather than whip votes against it, sources working on the bill said. Schumer’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders cited The Intercept piece and tweeted on Sunday: “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.”

The ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kathleen Ruane issued a statement: “In the midst of a partial government shutdown, Democratic and Republican senators have decided that one of their first orders of business next week should be to sneak through a bill that would weaken Americans’ First Amendment protections. The bill, Combatting BDS Act, encourages states to adopt the very same anti-boycott laws that two federal courts blocked on First Amendment grounds. The legislation, like the unconstitutional state anti-boycott laws it condones, sends a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government.”

See Sunday MSNBC interview with Arkansas Times publisher Alan Leveritt, who is being represented by the ACLU in a suit against such anti-BDS legislation. He asks: “Why should an American citizen have to take a position in favor of the foreign policy of a foreign government just so it can do business with its own government?” [See “Arkansas Times challenges law that requires state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel in federal court.”]

JOSH RUEBNER, josh at uscpr.org, @joshruebner
Policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Ruebner has been following such legislation and wrote the piece “Americans have a constitutional right to boycott Israel.” Also see the group’s resource page: “Oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.”