Earlier this month, civil liberties advocate and journalist Glenn Greenwald (along with Ryan Grimm of The Intercept) wrote an article warning about a bill before Congress with potentially dire consequences for free speech. If passed, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S.720, would make it illegal for Americans to engage in organized boycotts against the state of Israel. Participation in such activity could lead to a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Unfortunately, the bill is very likely to pass.
The aim of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (“The Act”) is to curtail the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to boycott Israel and its businesses as a punishment for Israeli settlement on Palestinian territory. In other words, it hopes to silence and punish those using economic speech to express a particular point of view. As an obvious violation of the First Amendment, the Act would very likely be found unconstitutional were it ever placed before the Supreme Court. As David Cole and Faiz Shakir of the ACLU argue in a recent Washington Post editorial, the 1982 case of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 would be controlling in a legal challenge of the act on First Amendment grounds. Claiborne regarded the expressive activities associated with an NAACP boycott as the “highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.” Nevertheless, supporters of the Act argue boycott bans have been implemented previously and that it does not ban speech but conduct. However, the Act expressly targets supporters of BDS who act to make a political point. It also prevents boycott supporters from transmitting information about a boycott to the United Nations.
Like most draconian laws, the Act has strong bipartisan support. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland introduced it in the Senate where it has 30 Republican and 16 Democratic co-sponsors. Republican Congressman Peter Roskam introduced the House version which has 185 Republican and 64 Democratic co-sponsors. It is disturbing that so many Congressmen are willing to disregard free speech in order to serve the agenda of Israel and its lobbyists. These Senators value being in the good graces of the Israeli lobby over the free speech rights of Americans. This is a major threat to our rights.
In his recent column, “Zionism, Not Islam, Is America’s Biggest Threat,” former Constitution Party presidential nominee Chuck Baldwin accuses the Israeli lobby of threatening not only our rights, but our way of life. He identifies Zionism as “heart, mind, and pocketbook” behind such destructive forces as neoconservatism and globalism. I published Baldwin’s article at Independent Political Report, and apparently, according to a few comments there, Baldwin is now an “anti-Semite” for having written it.
Three years ago, I argued that a federal “hate speech” ban was on the horizon. I said it would be disguised as a “civil rights” bill and that anyone who opposed it would be deemed a “racist.” It appears I was somewhat off. A clear speech ban is before Congress right now and anyone who opposes it is being deemed not as a “racist” but as an “anti-Semite.” If Congress is so unwilling to take a stand for such a paramount principle as free speech then it will be just as unwilling to take a stand for our other rights.
This is just the start. This bill needs to be nipped in the bud. I have no faith Congress can do the right thing. I ask that President Trump veto this unconstitutional bill to make it clear to all lobbyists, particularly those behind this bill, that free speech is not for sale.