WARNING: Israel Is Killing Americans’ Right to Free Speech
A new proposed U.S. federal law and multiple state laws will make it a felony for American individuals or organizations to exercise their constitutional right to free speech by boycotting Israel or divesting themselves from investments in Israeli companies or organizations who do business with Israel or to encourage others to do the same. These laws are being pushed into existence by Israel and its lobby, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Other laws have already been passed in some states banning companies who support boycotts of Israel from doing business with state agencies.
While these laws are bad enough in themselves, they set an extremely dangerous precedent. Not only are our state and federal governments being controlled by a foreign power who is writing legislation and corrupting our representatives to ensure the passage of such legislation but the precedent makes it easier for others to make even more heinous laws and turn our government against us.
Before going into the threatening legislation, consider the following situation. Imagine you or a company you have a major say in managing wants to do something to keep something you feel is bad from happening either locally or globally. That something may be perfectly legal wherever it is going on, but you have decided you disagree with it and want to do something about it.
As actions, you could decide to write letters to your local and/or federal government representatives or even engage in a public protest. Imagine, though, that this is not enough for you. You instead decide to act in an economic manner – by choosing to block any purchases, investments or trade connected with whatever you disagree with and whoever is responsible for it. You can also publicly communicate this as you or your company’s position on the matter, which you may even urge others to follow. It may initially just involve you or your company but gain momentum as others learn of what you have done.
Eventually, if enough others start doing the same things you have decided to do, those doing that thing you have identified as “bad” may start feeling the pressure financially. It may become big enough that entire companies or governments involved in the bad thing begin to get the message straight in their bank
accounts. If all goes well, they may even make the decision to stop doing that thing you labeled as bad.
This is a boycott. The same kind of logic is behind leveling sanctions against countries such as North Korea and Iran when they do things other governments do not want them to do (without having to resort to covert actions or outright war to persuade a country to change its ways).
It is also important that both nations and individuals have the right to decide what to spend money on and what not to unless, of course, already proscribed by law. It is not okay, for example, to decide you will not pay taxes to your government because you disagree with its policies, even though some have tried to do so. Otherwise it would seem fully within one’s rights to make one’s own spending decisions, especially within a place where the country’s constitution allows for freedom of speech. Multiple court decisions have even supported the idea of choosing what to spend money on as an act of free speech that is in fact protected by the U.S. constitution.
To take just one benign example to demonstrate the point, imagine that both of your parents died of lung cancer and had smoked heavily much of their lives. With cigarette smoking considered such an important contributing cause of cancer, your parents, their entire medical teams and you have all decided that smoking was likely a key reason why they died such horrible deaths. You decide you want to take some action short of a lawsuit against the tobacco companies, understanding full well that those companies are operating perfectly legally. You decide that you personally will not buy any stocks in any companies with business in the tobacco industry or mutual funds with any holdings in such stocks. You, as owner of a company you manage, may decide not to allow any pension funds your organization provides to have any tobacco investments either. This is all legal, right?
For now, it is. But the bill that is going through the U.S. Congress represents a chilling example of how what seems so logical, simple and lawful could suddenly become a federal crime in the 21st century United States.
The Proposed Federal Israel Anti-boycott Act
The legislation that is currently making its way very quietly through the U.S. Congress would make it a felony to support boycotts of the government of Israel and its Israeli settlement program. It is a strange law on multiple levels, effectively enforcing a political policy – not even a law – on corporations within the United States. It would also make it illegal to boycott a specific foreign government, Israel or companies in support of that government, specifically related to that policy position.
To understand some of why this is happening, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeted by the new act was launched in 2005 by a collective of approximately 170 Palestinian nongovernmental organizations. The BDS movement, as it came to be known, is a major call to action to people around the world to force Israel to comply with international law regarding what have been labeled as illegal settlements and related humanitarian violations of fundamental Palestinian civil rights in the region. Based on a previous activist movement in South Africa to abolish apartheid, the BDS movement calls for individuals, companies, pension plans, mutual funds and governments at all levels to take a stand against the settlements by boycotting those who support them, divesting investments tied to those supporting the settlements and helping to encourage an end to the settlements through sanctions.
The goal of the BDS movement is quite specific, just as the South African activist movement was. It calls for the following three things:
• Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall
• Providing Arab-palestinian citizens of Israel with full equality
• Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194 (the original resolution adopted by the UN in December 1948 to govern how Palestinian refugees might return to their homes in the region) The international boycott of South Africa did eventually make such a large impact that it may have been the final push that caused the country to abolish apartheid. The result was painful for the country, but most involved believe the country is far better because of the change.
The global BDS movement against Israel’s antiPalestinian actions within its borders is also gaining some traction.
The difference in the present case is simple. Unlike South Africa during its boycott, Israel is considered a critically important strategic ally for the United States in its region of the world – not because Israel helps the United States in any way but because Israel is so good at corrupting American politicians. Via the country’s own emissaries and U.s.-based groups such as AIPAC,
which lobbies aggressively on Israel’s behalf, Israel makes it a major political liability for any member of the U.S. Congress or even the President to take stands in defiance of what Israel happens to be doing. So even with Israel doing things many would consider serious – such as building settlements on land previously held by or promised to local Palestinians, imposing special regulations on Palestinian residents in Israel, limiting economic opportunity and even restricting telecommunications speeds in much of the area to only 2G to reduce connections with the outside world – Israel keeps winning the war of political mindshare in Washington, D.C.
The new proposed federal law would make it a felony for U.S. citizens to support boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements. If convicted, those found guilty of the offence would face a minimum $250,000 fine (running to as high as $1 million) plus up to 20 years in prison. And all that would come even just by voicing support for the BDS movement.
However unlikely the bill may sound, it already has a lot of backing within Congress. The pro-israeli Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government already has 46 senators saying they will vote for the bill, 15 of which are Democrats and 31 of which are Republicans. There are also 234 members of Congress who are supporting the bill.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has opposed the bill in its current form, urging senators to block it. In the ACLU’S statement on the matter, it said: “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.”
That may sound both logical and legally correct, but a surprising number of senators from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the bill are supporting it even though it makes them an enemy of the American people. On the Democratic side, already apparently in favor of the bill are Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York, as well as Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Maria Cantwell of Washington. For the Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Marco Rubio of Florida are some of the more prominent ones who have expressed support for it.
The idea of criminalizing the BDS movement is not new. The grounds vary, but in some countries, there is already legislation labeling the BDS movement as “hate speech” and fighting it that way. Others simply block it directly. Within Israel itself, in July 2011 the Knesset passed a law making it against the law to publicly call for a boycott against the country, which it explicitly defined as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.” The legislation also allowed that anyone calling for a boycott could be sued and forced to pay compensation regardless of the actual damages. Those that called for a boycott could also be blocked from bidding on Israeli government tenders.
Besides those outside laws and the proposed U.S. federal law, there are also laws that many do not know are already on the books at the state level around the country. The first of these was passed by the Illinois state legislature on May 18, 2015, and was signed into law by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner on July 23, 2015. That bill, SB-1761, puts companies that boycott Israel on restricted lists related to public pension fund investments in a sort of reverse-divesting
counterattack. Other laws that support the anti-bds movement include California’s tough law saying that the state will not do business with companies that do things “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
Additional anti-bds laws are also now on the books in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Those laws approach the issue from different angles, with the following two major themes:
The “boycott and pension funds cannot invest in you” bills. Indiana has a similar proposed law, but there has been no activity since former governor Mike Pence moved on to become Vice-president Pence.
The “maybe it’s legal for companies to boycott, but our state won’t contract with you” bills. Under these kinds of laws, the states are not allowed to enter into contracts with companies involved in the boycotts. These include California’s law stating the state will not do business with companies that do things “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.” Other states with related kinds of legislation are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. South Carolina took this concept a major step further by passing legislation that blocks state contracting with any companies that boycott “a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade.” It was signed into law by then South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, now the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Other states are currently considering legislation similar to both of the categories of laws described above.
The new federal law is coming at a time when the pressure against the Palestinians in Israel is reaching new levels of oppression. In Gaza, electricity is only on for between two and four hours a day, with Internet access restricted and even data rates on smartphones held to as slow as 2G levels.
The federal law has also appeared when the U.S. Congress and the White House are desperate to pass just about anything, now that the health care bill (as of this writing, at least) appears dead yet once again. That, together with what appears to be stronger-thanusual bipartisan support for any bill this year, could push this legislation over the edge to passage.
Why This Is So Important to Constitutional Rights
The concept of being able to openly speak your mind and spend your money wherever you want has been fiercely defended ever since it was built into the U.S. constitution. Even more – like it or not for those who think the decision was a bad one – the notorious Citizens United case, which asserted that companies have rights just like those of individuals, supports the rights of companies to decide to spend their own monies wherever they want.
Embedded in the pending U.S. federal legislation is that it is explicitly a felony for any U.S. citizen to support boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements. This positions the proposed federal law completely counter to the freedom of speech part of the U.S. constitution, and it cannot be allowed to stand before just speaking out against (“supporting”) anything becomes a felony.
As for the state regulations, they, too, are of major concern and may be harder to fight against at the same time. Unlike the proposed U.S. law, they do not and legally cannot assert that citizens and companies
operating within their borders are committing a crime by suggesting a boycott of a foreign nation or that foreign nation’s activities. The reason is that regulating interactions with foreign countries is outside the jurisdiction of the states. Instead, the states assert something potentially far more sinister – that it is okay for the states to legally discriminate against companies with views the states do not agree with.
That line of reasoning for the states amounts to a form of retaliation for disagreeing with what a state thinks is legally correct. One could argue – and it is likely the states will argue when and if their laws are challenged in court – that it is their right as states to choose to use their money however they wish. The catch is that the freedom of speech argument only works on the citizen side of things. Local, state and the federal government are in fact regulated in many ways that prevent them from being able to do whatever they want, based on their own beliefs. This area is a tricky one, though, and should be monitored carefully as it moves up the legal ladder.
Imagine if it were to become a crime to support a boycott or, alternatively, be legal for states to take retaliatory actions because they disagree with what a company might legally believe or practice – on any level. The country could rather quickly find itself immersed in the same crazed logic that resulted in several historic past restrictions of constitutional rights, including but not limited to the following:
U Seizing the property of those of Asian (and particularly) Japanese descent, as well as throwing them into internment camps during World War II, just because they might be dangerous
U Authorizing a country-wide wiretap of all American phones without cause, starting during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, under the legal justification of the Patriot Act
U Allowing a “stop and frisk” procedure based to a large extent on racial profiling to stand for many years, until it was finally challenged just in the past few in U.S. courts
U Refusing to provide legally authorized and mandated federal funding for city police forces in the United States if those cities happen to fall under the description of what are referred to as “sanctuary cities” – this is happening right now, and regardless of whether one agrees with sanctuary cities, this once again falls under the concept of punishing a group (in this case, the police force of a city and its citizens) for what they may believe in
Without question, if the federal bill becomes law, it will be challenged in the courts. The outcome of that fight is also far from certain, despite what appears to be a strong constitutional argument against the law in its current form.
Donald Trump is a staunch supporter of Israel and so far has done as Israel commands. There is little question that he would sign such legislation into law.
Trump supporters need to reconsider their support for Trump when doing so helps ensure the erosion of their own basic human rights.
What is needed is for the American people to just not let all of this happen. The citizens need to find out about the legislation already on the books in their own states, study the pending legislation in Congress and demand that those in charge – who they elected – change what they have been and soon will be allowing to happen. People are also urged to contact activist organizations like the ACLU and other legal action networks to find a way to stop this before it goes any further.
Americans need to recognize that enemies of their Constitution are indeed enemies of the American people. These serious attacks on the constitutional rights of the American people cannot be allowed to move forward without a fight.
One thing we can do is stop electing politicians loyal to Israel. Another essential action is to actually boycott Israel and the companies that support Israel.