The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is a global attempt to put economic and political pressure on Israel in an attempt to get them to end what many perceive as violations of international law. Specifically, BDS—an actual, non-profit organization—state their goals as wanting to end Israel’s occupation and settler colonization of Palestinian land including the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel, as well as acknowledgement of the right of return of Palestinian refugees. This could involve boycotting businesses with ties to the Israeli military, or companies actually operating in Israeli settlements.
Whether you agree with this or not is pretty much a straightforward political issue. As such, your willingness to participate in these sanctions should be protected just the same as any other protest or freedom of speech. However, it’s starting to look like Congress doesn’t see it that way.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act was introduced back in March and is backed by a group of 43 Senators-29 Republicans and 14 Democrats-according to the The Intercept. The bill, if passed, would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel in any way. The punishment for said support is particularly brutal: A minimum civil penalty of $250,000 up to a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison. All for exercising your right to free speech.
Last night, the American Civil Liberties Union posted on their website a letter they’d sent to each Senator. The letter cautions that, “[the bill] would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs.” And while the ACLU, “Takes no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country,” they’re massively opposed to this particular bill and the ramifications of it.
As one might expect, many senators aren’t even very aware of what’s in the bill. According to interviews conducted by The Intercept:
Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, for instance, seemed genuinely bewildered when told of the ACLU’s letter, saying “what’s the Act? You’ll have to get back to me on that.”
A similar exchange took place with another co-sponsor, one of AIPAC’s most reliable allies, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who said: “I’d want to read it . . . . I’d really have to look at it.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a cosponsor, said she hadn’t seen the ACLU letter but would give it a look. “I certainly will take their position into consideration, just like I take everybody’s position into consideration,” she said.
Perhaps most stunning is our interview with a co-sponsor of the bill, Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin, who seemed to have no idea what was in his bill, particularly insisting that it contains no criminal penalties.
It’s more than a little troubling that a bill that so directly challenges our freedom of speech is barely understood by many of its proponents. Hopefully, the ACLU’s letter and scrutiny from media outlets will help inform the congressmen what exactly they’re trying to do. Apparently, they can’t be trusted to do so on their own.