AIPAC is meeting in Washington, DC (Sunday through Tuesday) amidst protesters gathered outside trying to disrupt their conference. Capitol Hill is AIPAC’s target on Tuesday, March 6, where its members will be pushing their anti-Palestinian rights agenda – part of which is criminalizing the right to boycott through the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. (S.720/H.R.1697)
Checking the links for both pieces of legislation, I learned that there are 290 cosponsors in the House and 51 cosponsors in the Senate. Thankfully, my Congresswoman and two U.S. Senators from New Mexico have not cosponsored. Next step — a call to each office to ask them to oppose these bills. The bill’s summary includes:
This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.
The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:
- any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
- any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.
The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the Senators last summer when the bill was first introduced to caution them that slapping civil and criminal penalties on individuals for expressing their political beliefs about Israel violates the First Amendment. Check out ACLU’s letter here.
The ACLU wrote: We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.
Unfortunately, a number of states are taking their cue from AIPAC and these Israel Anti-Boycott Acts, and they’re passing similar versions. As of October 2017, Wisconsin was the 24th state to promulgate either a law or an executive order forbidding the state from conducting business with firms engaged in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) activity targeting Israel.
The order states: “Consistent with existing Wisconsin nondiscrimination provisions and regulations governing purchases… agencies may not execute a contract with a business entity if that entity is engaging in a boycott of Israel. Further, agencies shall reserve the right to terminate any contract with a business entity that engages in a boycott of Israel during the term of the contract.”
A teacher — Ms. Koontz — has taken the State of Kansas to federal court, challenging its anti-boycott legislation. She was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.
In January 2018, the court ruled in her favor and granted her request for an injunction prior to trial. The Court ruled that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties. And Judge Crabtree said that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case! Check out my blog post here for more details about her case.
Americans may have different opinions about Israel, about foreign policy issues, and about boycotts. But we should all have the same opinion about the sanctity of our right to express political opinions in whatever peaceful, nonviolent way we may choose, including boycotts. If the government comes for my speech today, it becomes much easier for the government to come for your speech tomorrow.