Sen. Ben Cardin, who introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and Sen. Rob Portman, a co-sponsor of the bill, have responded to a letter published by the ACLU. Specifically the two lawmakers say they want to “correct some fundamental misunderstandings about the bill.”
As I reported two days ago, the ACLU published a letter warning that the legislative initiative would “punish people for no reason other than their political beliefs,” this by imposing fines or prison terms upon US persons who support a boycott of Israel.
The senators, however, deny the bill will do this.
“Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally-protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies,” they insist. “Instead, it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”
No one will be penalized under the bill, they say, neither a business nor an individual, simply for calling for a boycott of Israel. What the bill will do, they assert, is modify a US law already on the books, the Export Administration Act of 1977, in a certain manner. Here is how they word it (emphasis in original):
The bill makes one small but important change in the current law. The EAA currently prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unauthorized foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The new legislation would extend this prohibition to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations such as United Nations Agencies or the European Union. For example, if the United Nations Human Rights Council requests information from an American company about its business dealings in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories as part of an effort to compile a blacklist of companies doing business with Israel, the bill would prohibit the company from responding.
The ACLU’s analysis of the bill, however, is dramatically different:
The bill seeks to expand the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export Import Bank Act of 1945 which, among other things, prohibit U.S. persons from complying with a foreign government’s request to boycott a country friendly to the U.S. The bill would amend those laws to bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union. It would also broaden the law to include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
A commentary on the bill has been posted by Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, who discusses the bill as well as the ACLU letter but who makes no mention of the response by Cardin and Portman–perhaps because the senators’ letter had not as yet been released at the time he posted the article. In either event, Weiss calls the bill “a crude example of overreach by the Israel lobby that it is sure to backfire on its supporters,” and he goes on to add:
Older Jews tend to be huge ideological supporters of Israel. Ben Cardin goes to synagogues and tells other older Jews that Palestinian statehood is “anti-American.” Schumer has called himself the “Schomer” or guardian of Israel and said that there is a Jewish interest in supporting Israel. A year ago Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List and JJ Goldberg of the Forward described the “gigantic” and “shocking” degree of the Democratic Party’s reliance on Jewish wealth for campaign contributions.
Ultimately, this is a story about the fight inside Jewish life over Zionism and support for Israel. I believe we will win this fight, and that this legislation will help us. The legislation will shock many civil-liberties-loving Jews. The Intercept story will force legislators to redraft the legislation.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is also a co-sponsor of the bill.
The story of Cardin’s bill was broken on July 19 in a report by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim published at The Intercept, an article which also mentions that that the bill has been strongly pushed by AIPAC. As far as I can tell, the Intercept story has yet to be picked up by any US mainstream media outlet, though presumably that’s because they are all too busy telling us about threats to our democracy from Russia. Potentially-unconstitutional bills being pushed through Congress by the Israeli lobby are apparently not newsworthy.