Former Israeli Officials: Anti-BDS Bill Hurts Israel

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Israeli settlement in the West Bank. (photo: iStock)

Former Israeli officials argue that the Anti-Israel Boycott bill hurts Israel by legitimizing illegal settlements and expanding the definition of Israeli territory.

By Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka / Forward
August 10, 2017

[Ami Ayalon is a former director Shin Bet, Gilead Sher is the former Chief of Staff for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel.]

As Israelis committed to the future of our country as the secure, democratic home of the Jewish people, we wish to underscore, expand and add perspective to a critical point J.J. Goldberg makes in his August 4th column about the anti-BDS bill now before the U.S. Congress.

The bill proposes to criminalize explicit boycotts of Israel. But Goldberg points out that while the debate about the bill has focused on whether or not the bill violates freedom of speech, a much more controversial issue embedded in it is its tacit recognition of settlements, contravening official US policy. And settlements have posed one of the most serious obstacles to efforts by successive U.S. administrations to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

As Goldberg notes, “The bill commits the United States for the first time to extending protection, including legal protection, to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” The bill does that, Goldberg explains, by blurring the distinction between Israel and “territories under its control,” i.e. the occupied territories.


The significance of eroding this distinction cannot be overstated. It endangers the future of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state. It delegitimizes the entire Zionist enterprise. And it actually plays into the hands of BDS advocates.

Here’s how: If Israel includes the territories, it cannot be a democracy, because the approximate 2.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank have no civic rights, unlike their settler neighbors, who are Israeli citizens.

This concept cannot be stated enough times. No country that does not mandate full civic equality to millions of people can legitimately claim to be a democracy and have that claim accepted by the world’s democratic states.


That is exactly what BDS advocates point to when they assert that Israel is an apartheid state. And if Israel is defined as including the territories, as it is in this bill, they are correct.

Thus, the legitimacy of Israel hinges on the distinction between Israel proper, where Jews have a right for self-determination, and the territories, in which a Palestinian state should be established in order to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and dignity.

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A New Boycott Battle: The Anti-BDS Bill

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Civil rights groups argue the “anti-Israel boycott” bill would violate First Amendment rights, while supporters say the bill is narrowly tailored and represents a minor amendment to current law.

By Elizabeth Redden / Inside Higher Ed
August 11, 2017


“[The bill’s authors] effectively use the U.S. government to silence its citizens and others for refusing to do business with Israel. Importantly, this legislation would dole out punishment for refusing to do business with companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories — companies that are thereby acting illegally under international law. Astonishingly, an individual or business could be convicted for obeying international human rights rulings.”
— David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor of comparative literature at Stanford University


A bill in Congress that would prohibit U.S. persons or companies from participating in or supporting boycotts of Israel organized by international governmental organizations like the United Nations or the European Union has been roundly criticized by civil liberties groups as an infringement on First Amendment rights to free expression.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which enjoys wide bipartisan support and has 48 cosponsors in the Senate, isn’t directly focused on higher education, but opponents of the bill say it would have implications for scholars and academic organizations to the extent they’re involved in boycott-related activism — as many individual academics and some academic groups are. Although the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country of Israel, supported by many academics and others, is organized by nongovernmental organizations and seemingly would not fall under the purview of the bill, opponents of the legislation say BDS supporters could be ensnared by it if they, as part of their activism, participated in or otherwise supported a boycott organized by an international governmental body like the United Nations.

“This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a July 17 letter opposing the bill. Those penalties, the ACLU wrote, could include civil fines of up to $250,000 or criminal penalties of up to $1 million and a 20-year prison sentence.

“There are millions of businesses and individuals who do no business with Israel, or with companies doing business there, for a number of reasons,” the ACLU wrote. “Some, like those who would face serious financial penalties and jail time under the bill, actively avoid purchasing goods or services from companies that do business in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories because of a political viewpoint opposed to Israeli policy. Others may refrain from Israeli-related business based on political beliefs, but choose not to publicly announce their reasoning. Still others do no business with companies in Israel for purely pragmatic reasons. Under the bill, however, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment — even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior. In short, 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.”

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Senate Bill 720 Makes It A Crime To Support Human Rights

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From left, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). (photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images)

Senators must stop hiding behind hollow support of a “two-state solution” that this bill would make impossible.

By James Zogby / Huffington Post
August 12, 2017


In order to build support for their effort, advocates for Israel have tried to portray BDS in the harshest of terms. They have made Israel the victim and while portraying advocates of BDS as “virulently anti-Semitic” aggressors. All of this has been done to obfuscate the reality that BDS is nothing more than a “strategic Palestinian-led form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation and denial of human rights.”


It is fascinating to watch some U.S. senators tripping over themselves as they attempt to defend their support for or opposition to proposed legislation that would make it a federal crime to support the international campaign to Boycott, Divest, or Sanction (BDS) Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands. What ties these officials up in knots are their efforts to square the circle of their “love of Israel,” their opposition to BDS, their support for a “two-state solution,” and their commitment to free speech.

The bill in question, S720, was introduced on March 23, 2017 by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). S720 opposes calls by the United Nations to boycott or “blacklist” companies that support Israeli activities in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. The bill further prohibits any US person from supporting this UN call to boycott and establishes stiff fines and/or imprisonment for Americans who violate this prohibition.

There are a number of problems with the legislation. In the first place, supporters of S720 grossly mischaracterize the intent of the UN approach as “anti-Israel.” In fact, as S720, itself, acknowledges, the UN Human Rights Council specifically targets only businesses that engage in activities in “territories occupied [by Israel] since 1967.” The UN target is not Israel, but Israeli actions that serve to consolidate its hold over the occupied territories.

Then there is the concern that by making illegal either the act of boycotting Israel, or advocating for such a boycott, S720 is criminalizing free speech and stifling legitimate peaceful protest.

Finally, the legislation continues to build on earlier Congressional legislation using slight of hand language in an attempt to erase the distinction in U.S. law between Israel and illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territories. While earlier legislation accomplished this by referring to “Israel and areas under Israel’s control,” S720 notes that its boycott prohibition applies to “commercial relations…with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel.”

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