US Senate blocks Bill criminalising boycott of Israel

25th Jan 2019
US Senate blocks Bill criminalising boycott of Israel

Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s Combating BDS Act was blocked
(Photo: Michael Vadon/Wiki Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

A Bill designed to criminalise the boycott of Israel in the US was stalled on January 8. The Senate voted 56 to 44, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance the law.

The Combating BDS Act introduced by Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, would criminally penalise individuals, including companies or their employees who participate in international boycotts of Israel and the occupied territories.

In its earlier form, the Bill would have included imprisonment. While the revised legislation has eliminated imprisonment as a penalty, civil liberties groups still vehemently oppose the legislation as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech which would impose potentially exorbitant criminal financial penalties against those who support a boycott of Israel.

That the US Government would consider criminalising criticism of Israeli policies speaks to the hold the pro-Israel lobby has on many legislators. In 2018, the lobby spent $3.8 million on politicians, with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) accounting for the lion’s share.

The Bill has been fiercely criticised by Muslim and Palestinian advocacy groups, as well as civil rights organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. The Union’s Senior Legislative Counsel, Kathleen Ruane, said, “Combating 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 penalised if they dare to disagree with their government. We, therefore, urge senators to vote no on the Combating BDS Act next week.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations Government Affairs Director, Robert McCaw, said, “This unconstitutional Bill violates the First Amendment rights of all Americans to challenge the illegal and discriminatory actions of a foreign government and goes against the principles of free speech on which our country was founded.”

Senator Bernie Sanders also tweeted that it was “absurd that the first Bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity.”

“They forgot what country they represent. This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our US Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away,” said Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress last month.

In addition to the proposed Federal legislation, 26 US states have enacted anti-BDS laws, with legislation pending in 13 states, according to Palestine Legal. However, those laws have already been challenged in the courts, even in the most Republican-friendly states like Kansas and Arizona.

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