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The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) is very bad legislation. It’s also that rarity, a bill that truly has bipartisan support. It’s laws like this proposed legislation, I suspect, that gives being bipartisan a bad rep.

The bill essentially bans boycotts or economic sanctions against countries “friendly” to the U.S. , specifically, but not necessarily limited to, Israel:

The bill amends the Export Administration Act of 1979 to declare that it shall be U.S. policy to oppose:

  • requests by foreign countries to impose restrictive practices or boycotts against other countries friendly to the United States or against U.S. persons; and
  • restrictive trade practices or boycotts fostered or imposed by an international governmental organization, or requests to impose such practices or boycotts, against Israel.

The bill prohibits U.S. persons engaged in interstate or foreign commerce from:

  • requesting the imposition of any boycott by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States; or supporting any boycott fostered or imposed by an international organization, or
  • requesting imposition of any such boycott, against Israel.

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 legislation would levy significant fines not only for participating in boycotts or sanctions, but also for simply requesting information about such actions. Legislation like this would have precluded the boycott of South Africa that was at least partly responsible for the fall of apartheid. People on the left and on the right oppose this bill for much the same reason: it is improperly coercive, too broad in scope, and violates the Constitution. If its support is bipartisan, so is its opposition.

Who opposes the Israel Anti-Boycott Act?

The ACLU wrote in a letter to the Senate that “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment,” adding that:

“… this bill cannot fairly be characterized as an anti-discrimination measure, as some would argue. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prevents businesses from discriminating against customers based onrace, color, religion, and national origin. This bill, on the other hand, aims to punish people who support international boycotts that are meant to protest Israeli government policies, while leaving those who agree with Israeli government policies free from the threat of sanctions for engaging in the exact same behavior. Whatever their merits, such boycotts right ly enjoy First Amendment protection.

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison, on the other end of the political spectrum, is in perfect agreement:

Whatever one thinks about the BDS [i.e., boycott, divestment, and sanctions] movement and related international efforts to pressure Israel to change its occupation policies, it is deranged to try to criminalize protected political speech and association. As the ACLU points out, that is what this bill does. This legislation is plainly unconstitutional, and I assume it would be struck down in court if it were ever signed into law, but the deeper problem is that so many elected representatives think it is appropriate and desirable to trample on the constitutional rights of Americans to defend another government’s illegal occupation. …

J-street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group that advocates for a two-state solution to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but which has stopped short of endorsing boycotts and sanctions, also opposes the legislation. In an email to congressional staffers, the J Street Vice President of Government Affairs, Dylan J. Williams, wrote that in its present form, the bill would:

…undermine decades of US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bolster the settlement enterprise and harm the prospects for a two-state solution. […]

[…] we recommended that Members consult with free speech experts on possible Constitutional concerns with the bill. Accordingly, I want to make sure that you saw the letters issued by the ACLU yesterday opposing both the Senate and House versions of the bill on the grounds that they would impose penalties in “direct violation of the First Amendment.”

So who does support this bill?

AIPAC. But that goes without saying.

Who else? At least 237 members of the House of representatives, 63 of whom are Democrats, are cosponsors of the bill, and 45 Senators, 13 of whom are Democrats, are also cosponsors . Others will probably, due to either conviction or the pressures of the prevailing political wisdom, help vote it into law.

Missouri Supporters

As for whom in Missouri supports this legislation, here’s the list of House cosponsors from our fair state: Rep. Wagner, Ann (R-2), Rep. Sam Graves (R-6), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-4), Rep. Jason Smith (R-8), and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3). And in the Senate, who else but that consummate bipartisan wannabe, Senator Claire McCaskill, has signed on. So far, at least, Senator Blunt is keeping his hands off this one. Do you think he might actually have a few Constitutional scruples?

McCaskill’s presence is the most easily explained. She’s good at the political calculus and you can bet there’s some payoff here, or at least she hopes there will be, in 2018. The woman’s great strength is her pragmatism. It’s also, alas, her frequent downfall.This case falls into the latter category.

What really bothers me, though, are all those Republicans in the House who support this bill. Don’t most Missouri conservatives get all teary-eyed about the right of bakers and the like to refuse to do business with the LGBT folks – or whoever else their personal Jesus tells them to dis? Yet they don’t want to let businessmen or individuals who have moral qualms about the activities of foreign countries refrain from doing business that supports those activities? It’s not exactly the same question – there’s lots of issues to unpack here – but, on the surface at least, it seems just a little hypocritical.

More importantly, weren’t lots of these chuckleheads elected during the Tea Party “uprising” by voters who went around in tricorner hats waving pocket copies of the Constitution? It was pretty clear, even at that time, that few Tea Partiers had actually bothered to read the document and fewer still understood it, but don’t you think that the folks they sent to Washington ought to at least show a little deference to the legal underpinnings of of our great Democracy?

*2nd to last paragraph slightly revised for clarity (12:03, 7/21/17).