Nora Barrows-Friedman interviews Policy Director Josh Ruebner for the Electronic Intifada’s podcast on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (starts at 8:00).
“Alarm has been raised” over Congress’ anti-BDS bill
US lawmakers appear to be backpedaling on their support for a bill that seeks not only to discourage support for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, but to punish violators with up to $1 million in fines and 20 years in prison.
Last week, as US lawmakers continued to sign on in support of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that the law would violate free speech rights by criminalizing political beliefs.
“Now that the alarm has been raised by the ACLU, everyone is up in arms about this bill,” said Josh Ruebner, policy director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, on The Electronic Intifada podcast.
“Senators who are being confronted and representatives who are being confronted about their support for this bill are backtracking. Because of the concerns raised by the ACLU, the likelihood of the bill going forward is very slim at this point,” he explained.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced by Democratic US Senator Ben Cardin in March and supported by dozens of members of Congress, was designed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Ruebner reported for The Electronic Intifada in April.
Ruebner showed how the language of the AIPAC-backed bill obscured the severe criminal penalties by making seemingly minor amendments that greatly broadened the scope of an existing law.
The powerful Israel lobby group made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.
Following the ACLU’s statement, The Intercept reported that “some co-sponsors seemed not to have any idea what they co-sponsored – almost as though they reflexively sign whatever comes from AIPAC without having any idea what’s in it.”
Cardin told The Intercept in a follow-up article on Monday that he is open to amending the legislation to address concerns raised by the ACLU, while other lawmakers have faced mounting pressure from constituents to explain their support of the bill.
The ACLU’s opposition to the bill has opened up “an opportunity for Palestine solidarity activists to press this issue now, hard, with their members of Congress,” Ruebner said.
Ruebner added: “Because those members of Congress, and especially the Democratic members of Congress who fancy themselves as being part of the resistance to Trump’s authoritarianism, who have put themselves on as sponsors of this bill – to jail people for expressing their political viewpoints, they are on the defensive right now.”