California Senator Dianne Feinstein today joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in opposing the controversial Israel Anti-Boycott Act on free speech grounds.
The Act, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) would prohibit American companies from participating in boycotts of Israel. It is supported by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Cardin and other senators are pushing to include the act in a budget bill that Congress must pass to keep the government funded and running past Friday.
In a Wednesday letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sanders and Feinstein wrote, “We ask that you not include the ‘Israel Anti-Boycott Act,’ (S. 720) in any year-end funding bill. While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the rights of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government.”
“As the ACLU has repeatedly stated in its opposition” to the Act, “this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment Rights. Federal District Courts in Kansas and Arizona have similarly considered state laws that target political boycotts of Israel and found them to violate the First Amendment.”
The reasoning by the Courts applies “with equal force to” the proposed federal law, Feinstein and Sanders argued.
Another affront to the First Amendment, they contended, is that “The bill would prohibit and penalize certain constitutionally-protected political activity aimed solely at Israeli settlements in the West Bank, thereby extending US legal protection to the very settlements the United States has opposed as illegitimate and harmful to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace for more than 50 years. Whether one opposes such targeted measures or not, criminalizing acts such as the mere furnishing of information on companies that do business in the settlements would represent a significant and heavy-handed departure from five decades of bipartisan opposition to the settlement enterprise. At a time when the Netanyahu government is pursuing policies clearly aimed at foreclosing the two-state solution, it is deeply disappointing that Congress would consider penalizing criticism of these policies.”
Perhaps aware of the strong support in Congress for the bill Feinstein and Sanders concluded their epistle by saying, “We are happy to debate [the legislation] on its merits as freestanding legislation. However, we respectfully ask that you reject any effort to include this controversial legislation in a must pass, year-end appropriations bill.”