Tell Congress: Do not criminalize free speech
Imagine a law that would make it illegal to boycott companies from certain countries for political reasons – a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
If this sounds too extreme even for today's far-right Congress, you may be surprised to learn that a quietly moving bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720/H.R. 1697), would do just that. Even more concerning, the bill has 43 co-sponsors in the Senate – including more than a dozen Democrats – and a majority of the House has signed on.1
Tell Congress: Oppose S. 720/H.R. H.R.1697 and any other bill that would criminalize free speech.
The bill is so broad that if the government claims that your decision to boycott a company "furthers or supports" a boycott issued by a group like the United Nations Human Rights Commission, prosecutors could charge you with a felony. If you were convicted, courts could levy fines from $250,000 to $1 million and prison sentences up to 20 years.
Under current law it is already illegal for U.S. residents and companies to join a boycott of any country friendly to the United States if that boycott was launched by a foreign country.2 The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would expand this law to criminalize participation in boycotts launched by intergovernmental organizations, such as the European Union or United Nations.
This direction is dangerous, and it has nothing to do with your stance on Israel's policies – this is about the fundamental right to free speech and political dissent. J Street, a prominent Jewish advocacy group and an ally of CREDO, is opposing this bill in part due to First Amendment concerns.3 Our friends at the ACLU have called on Congress to reject the bill because it "would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs..."4
Tell Congress: Oppose S. 720/H.R. 1697 and any other bill that would criminalize free speech.
Restricting our freedom of expression and imposing criminal penalties for holding specific political views is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, reporters covering the Israel Anti-Boycott Act have found that many senators – including co-sponsors of the bill – do not seem aware of this bill's dangerous implications.5
Thanks to widespread public backlash, bill sponsors have now said they are willing to amend the bill to remove prison sentencing and address free speech concerns.6 But any version of this bill that restricts Americans' rights to boycott and express dissent is unacceptable. We need to stand with our friends at ACLU and J Street to make sure that Congress forcefully rejects this bill and any other legislation that would limit our First Amendment rights.
Tell Congress: Oppose S. 720/H.R.1697 and any other bill that would criminalize free speech.
- Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, "Israel Anti-Boycott Act," 115th Congress, introduced March 23, 2017.
- United States Code, "50 USC 4607: Foreign boycotts," accessed July 26, 2017.
- Zaid Jilani, "J Street, a reliable foe of BDS, urges Congress to oppose Israel anti-boycott act for now, The Intercept, July 20, 2017.
- Faiz Shakir, "ACLU letter to the Senate opposing Israel Anti-Boycott Act," ACLU, July 17, 2017.
- Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim, "U.S. lawmakers seek to criminally outlaw support for boycott campaign against Israel," The Intercept, July 19, 2017.
- Ryan Grim, "Senators promise to amend Israel boycott bill after backlash," The Intercept, July 25, 2017.