Seattle activists challenge Maria Cantwell’s sponsorship of S. 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
By Alice Rothchild / Mondoweiss
September 10, 2017
According to the ACLU: The bill states that violators shall be fined in accordance with the penalties laid out in Section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. That section provides that violations are punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and that willful violations are subject to criminal prosecution, which could result in a fine of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison.
Senate Bill 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, (and its twin in the House of Representatives, Bill 1697), are currently wending their ways through the national legislative process with all the usual front and backroom big money pressure from AIPAC, StandWithUs, and Co., as well as pushback from the less financially endowed citizenry. S. 720 is part of a host of national and state level legislation that seeks to suppress criticism of Israeli policy, to destroy BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (as anti-Semitic hate speech dangerous to Israel), and to erase Palestinian history and narrative. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell who claims to support freedom of speech and human rights, is a cosponsor of S. 720 and we have a problem with that.
Six constituents (including myself) met with [Sen. Cantwell’s] outreach staffer in Seattle on September 7. We are activist Jews, a Unitarian, an Episcopalian, and an Anglican; we are a building contractor, doctor, Palestinian educator, psychologist, and folks active on community and social justice issues. Most of us have had personal experiences bearing witness and working in Israel/Palestine. Dayna was welcoming, interested, but clearly not well versed in the topic, as that is the turf of the DC office. So we started with the basics.
Cantwell claims that S. 720 is narrower than opponents of the bill have stated, and she is unfortunately mistaken, most likely bending to the talking points furnished by AIPAC and Co. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act amends the Export Administration Act (EAA), passed in 1979 in response to the Arab League boycott of Israel.
According to the ACLU: That law prohibits “U.S. persons” — a term that refers to both individuals and companies — from taking certain actions to comply with or support a boycott imposed by a foreign country against another country that is friendly to the United States.
EAA prohibits US persons who are doing business, from boycotting a “friendly country.” (Friendly is not defined — are we talking France? Saudi Arabia? Philippines? Is Israel really friendly when it flaunts US demands to halt settlement construction, opposes the Iran deal, humiliates Obama, trashes Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, the presumptive other “peace partner”?). EAA also prohibits the “furnishing of information” about US business persons’ relationships in the boycotted country. S. 720 takes this further.
Written in response to the UN Human Rights Council March 2016 resolution which called for a database of companies working in the occupied Palestinian territories, the bill’s statement of policy claims that these policies are part of BDS activities against Israel. The new bill prohibits US persons from boycotting Israel and Israeli businesses including in the territories, in response to calls from international governmental organizations like the UN and EU. It would make even requesting information about businesses in relation to boycott activities illegal.