By Ron Forthofer
There is a Senate bill, along with a companion bill in the House, working its way through Congress with strong bipartisan support, that poses a significant danger to free speech. One would think this bill would be a big deal but, surprisingly, the bill has not received much coverage in the mainstream media.
Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union is alert to efforts undermining free speech. Thus, in a July 20th article on the ACLU website about S. 720/H.R. 1697, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, Bryan Hauss, Staff Attorney, wrote:
“The bill would amend existing law to prohibit people in the United States from supporting boycotts targeting Israel — making it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.”
“The bill is aimed at advocates of boycotts targeting Israel, most notably the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Specifically, the bill sponsors intend the act as a response to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 2016 resolution calling on companies to respect human rights, including in occupied Palestinian territories.
“No matter what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing is clear: The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts.”
Amazingly, supporters of this bill seem to have a problem with calling on companies to respect human rights! Who would draft such a problematic bill that stifles free speech and nonviolent political action?
The theintercept.com website carried a July 19th article by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim that said: “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.”
This AIPAC-influenced bill is consistent with AIPAC’s long-term pattern of advocating for the interests of a foreign nation, Israel. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C. and many members of Congress seem to automatically toe its line. Thus it is not surprising that 46 senators and 245 representatives have already signed on to the bill originally introduced on March 23rd.
Greenwald and Grim added that cosponsors include liberal Senators Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell as well as conservative Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse.
In the House, cosponsors include conservatives such as Jason Chaffetz, Liz Cheney, and Peter King as well as liberals Ted Lieu, Adam Schiff, and Eric Swalwell. Greenwald and Grim noted that these latter three members, who have built a wide public following by posturing as opponents of authoritarianism, are cosponsoring one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills that has pended before Congress in quite some time.
Many of the cosponsors claim they were unaware of the penalties that could be applied in the bill whereas a few others state that they have a different reading of the bill, particularly related to the criminal penalties.
In addition to using AIPAC and other groups to lobby Congress, Israel previously directly inserted itself into our legislative process. For example, in 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blatantly campaigned to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran. Also of concern, many U.S. and Israeli political experts thought Netanyahu clearly tried to sway the outcome in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
We must protect our free speech by opposing this highly questionable bill designed to benefit a foreign nation. In Colorado this means questioning Senator Bennet and Representatives Lamborn, Coffman and Buck, about their support for this appalling bill.
We can also thank the other members of the Colorado delegation for not cosponsoring this terrible affront to free speech and the Constitution.
– Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is a retired professor of biostatistics and an activist with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Boulder, CO. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.