The ACLU released a statement this week opposing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 167/S.720), a bill with bi-partisan support seeking to ban support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) for anyone engaged in “interstate or foreign commerce,” imposing penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
Israel meanwhile, is looking to make Israeli state action against BDS campaigners secret, by exempting these actions from Israel’s Freedom of Information Law which allows Israeli citizens and residents to obtain public information.
In a statement released Monday about the U.S. bill, which was first introduced in March, the ACLU said that “The bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”
The civil liberties group pointed out that there are numerous businesses and individuals who do not engage in transactions with Israel or Israeli companies for reasons of political opposition to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, and that these people would face harsh, legal penalties under the law.
The ACLU, although it emphasizes that it takes “no stance” on boycotts, argues that the proposed law is a first-amendment constitutional violation.
According to the proposed law, which is sponsored by Democratic Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and backed by a group of 43 U.S. Senators – 14 Democrats and 29 Republicans – those who violate the measure could face up to a US$1 million fine and 20 years in prison.
“The bill amends the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 to include as a reason for the Export-Import Bank to deny credit applications for the export of goods and services between the United States and foreign countries, opposition to policies and actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel,” the bill’s summary states on Congress’s website.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group that assisted in the bill’s drafting, has explicitly stated that they aim to combat so-called “delegitimization of Israel,” particularly in international spaces such as the United Nations.
Israel’s bill looks to bury the actions of the Israeli government which combat BDS supporters.
“One of the principles for success is keeping our methods of action secret… Since most of the ministry’s actions are not of the ministry, but through bodies around the world who do not want to expose their connection with the state,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan said according to Ma’an News Agency.
Erdan, who is from the right-wing Likud party, is in charge of combatting the BDS movement.
Founded 12 years ago, the BDS movement was inspired by both the South African anti-apartheid movement and the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
It calls for a worldwide movement to ban Israeli products and raise pressure against Israel to end the illegal occupation and system of institutionalized racial discrimination, which the U.N. has recognized meets the definition of an apartheid system.