For those unfamiliar with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign (BDS), it is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonizing Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and refusing Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. For nearly seventy years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. The BDS campaign is thoroughly discussed in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

Celebrating its 12th year, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

Israel sees BDS’s success as a danger and has called up its minions to act.

US Governors, at Israel’s urging, have been competing with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participation in any boycott aimed at illegal Israeli settlements and their products. On US campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticism of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

Now 234 Congressional members are trying to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. The most shocking aspect of this piece of legislation is its punishment.  Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Apparently Senator Cardin did not know exactly what was in his bill, insisting, when interviewed, that it contained no criminal penalties.

In fact, the bill itself makes no mention of penalties. It is in the underlying amended statute where it mentions the $ 1 million dollar fine and the 20-year prison sentence which could be brought in and used, at will, by a judge or prosecutor.

By trying to enact this legislation, Israel and the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) are trying, through congressional action, to preempt a database due to be published by the U.N. that will list companies that are engaged in commerce in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

According to Rabbi Joseph Berman, Government Affairs Manager for Jewish Voice for Peace, “AIPAC is a very effective lobby, and no different in its influence than the National Rifle Association which keeps Congress from passing much-needed gun reform. AIPAC is very much a part of a broken system and they do a very good job at playing that system. They have immense resources and are able to move legislation like this forward.  However, they do not speak for the Jewish community which is incredibly diverse especially when it comes to relationships to and views on Israel-Palestine.”

If its authors and other Congressional members who are supporting this legislation don’t exactly know what’s in the bill why are they supporting it?

According to Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in June 2017:  “Sometimes anti-Semitism is cloaked in rhetoric that profess no bias but suspiciously holds Israel—and by extension the Jewish people—to a different standard than others. There is no greater example than this insidious effort to harm the Jewish state than through BDS. The global BDS movement is a deeply biased campaign aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state, sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly, while all the while practicing a modern form of anti-Semitism.”

The Intercept’s Ryan Grim suggests another reason the bill’s supporters don’t know its content. “The bill is a kind of proxy opposition to BDS. If you have not signed onto this bill, whether you have read it or not, you can be accused by AIPAC of supporting BDS. If you’re not with us, you are against us.”

The irony here is that it does not criminalize all boycotts of Israel. A neo-Nazi group that is driven by explicit anti-Semitism and calls for a boycott of Israel does not fall under this statute.

Again, Roger Grim: “Only if you’re supporting BDS from a pro-Palestinian perspective would the same precise action be criminalized. According to the ACLU, this is the definition of a First Amendment violation because the same acts become criminalized only based on your political motivation for carrying out that act.”

According to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS National Committee: “Israel concluded that its former strategy for fighting BDS was failing so they adopted a new two-pronged strategy that was based on using their intelligence services to spy on BDS activists and try to tarnish their reputation, and by using legal warfare to force legislation through the US Congress.”

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