Senate bill would make it a federal crime to boycott Israeli settlements

Senate bill would make it a federal crime to boycott Israeli settlements
Palestinian protesters carry stones and a bottle filled with paint during clashes with Israeli security forces. Abbas Momani/Getty Images
Palestinian protesters carry stones and a bottle filled with paint during clashes with Israeli security forces. Abbas Momani/Getty Images

In spite of a United Nations resolution claiming that Israeli settlements built in Palestinian territory have “no legal validity” and present a “major obstacle to the vision of two states living side by side in peace,” a group of United States senators want to make it a federal crime for American citizens and businesses to boycott goods produced by Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank.

Introduced on March 23, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720) would make it a felony to support international efforts to boycott Israeli occupation, according to the Intercept. Violation of the bill’s terms would result in a hefty punishment: a maximum civil penalty of $250,000, and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million or 20 years in prison.

An elderly Palestinian man walks in the West Bank city of Hebron.
An elderly Palestinian man walks in the West Bank city of Hebron. Bernat Armangue/AP

So far, 43 senators have thrown their support behind the legislation, including the two primary sponsors of the bill, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Its co-sponsors comprise some of Washington’s top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

The bill, championed by 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats in total, was “drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a powerful lobbying group that advocates for pro-Israel policies in Washington and carries heavy bipartisan clout.

A Palestinian stone thrower faces an Israeli tank during clashes at the Karni crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian stone thrower faces an Israeli tank during clashes at the Karni crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Laurent Rebours/AP

On July 17, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a letter urging U.S. lawmakers to refrain from supporting the bill, which it contends “would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs.”

Cracking down on political activism against Israel’s occupation of Palestine has become a hot-button issue worldwide as of late, with French activists prosecuted for wearing T-shirts and the United Kingdom taking steps to ban anti-Israel activism outright.

But here in the U.S., the Intercept reports, lawmakers’ attempts to criminalize the boycott of Israel might be accidental more than anything else.

According to the report, many of the lawmakers who offered the bill their support may have failed to read the actual contents of the AIPAC-drafted legislation, including Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who repeatedly denied that the bill would result in criminal penalties, and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who said: “I’d want to read it … I’d really have to look at it.”