Growing numbers of Americans and the civil society institutions to which they belong are supporting economic action against Israel as a moral and nonviolent way of showing their disapproval of Israel’s oppression.
It should be a no-brainer that Americans can boycott whomever or whatever they choose without risking governmental punishment. After all, the Supreme Court ruled that states have no “right to prohibit peaceful political activity” such as a boycott, which is an “expression on public issues” that “has always rested on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) concluded its annual policy conference last week with a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. High on its legislative agenda was advocating for bills that would penalise Americans for engaging in their First Amendment-protected right to boycott for Palestinian rights.
AIPAC conference attendees pressed their elected officials to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). The original, draconian version of this bill, unveiled at last year’s AIPAC conference, proposed to jail individuals for 20 years if they advanced an international organization’s call for a boycott of Israel, or even of products from its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
AIPAC supporters also asked their Members of Congress to back the Combating BDS Act, sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). This bill seeks to stifle the successful Palestinian civil society call for campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as a nonviolent means to attain Palestinian freedom from more than 50 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, justice for Palestinian refugees denied their right of return to the homes from which they were expelled by Israel when it was established in 1948, and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel who face dozens of discriminatory laws. Rubio’s bill encourages states to pass legislation denying contracts to individuals, associations and businesses which support BDS.
Although both pieces of legislation initially picked up substantial support on Capitol Hill when they were introduced last year, fortunately, these blatantly unconstitutional bills have been stymied by opposition from those engaged in BDS campaigns for Palestinian rights and civil liberties organizations defending Americans’ right to boycott. . . . Indeed, the recent blossoming of the #BoycottNRA movement provides renewed proof of the centrality of boycott movements in effecting social change in the United States.