We Have a Right to Boycott for Justice
In the face of both rising justice movements and a rising right wing, defending our right to boycott for justice is vital. There are regularly various bills proposed in Congress that limit the right to boycott, or criminalize solidarity with the Palestinian people through other means. See below for an overview on different legislation from the current 117th Congress, as well as campaigns from the 116th Congress.
Repressive Legislation Attacking the Right to Boycott – 117th Congress [Current Congress, 2021-2022]
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, H.R. 6940, was introduced again in March 2022. Versions of this bill have been introduced and did not pass in previous Congresses (116th Congress, H.R. 5595; 115th Congress, S. 720). The bill criminalizes participating in boycotts of Israel, specifically banning U.S. organizations and institutions from complying with boycotts of Israel imposed by international organizations, such as the UN or the EU. It also prohibits supplying information for the U.N. Human Rights Council database for companies contributing to illegal Israeli settlement expansion. The bill is not currently expected to come up for a vote.
The Combating BDS act of 2021, S. 2119, attempts to authorize state and local laws that prohibit state contracts with organizations engaging in BDS campaigns. Many of these kinds of local laws have been found unconstitutional and blocked by courts. The bill only has two cosponsors and is not currently expected to come up for a vote.
Other repressive legislation in Congress is focused on attempts to conflate protests against Israeli violence with antisemitic hate crimes (such as S. 1939/H.R. 3515, which references the IHRA definition), and specifically attempts to penalize organizations critical of Israel. See S. 2479/S. 3467/H.R. 4721, which withholds US funding for UNWRA unless the Secretary of State certifies that no UNWRA employee, contractor or partner has criticized Israel or expressed support for boycotts, and S. 399, prohibiting Amnesty International from receiving federal funds, including benefits for Amnesty International employees, in response to Amnesty’s work exposing Israel apartheid and human rights violations. All of these bills are in committee and not currently expected to come up for a vote.
For more up-to-date information on existing and pending federal laws impacting the right to boycott for justice, please visit righttoboycott.org, managed by Palestine Legal.
116th Congress [Previous Congress 2019-2020]
President Trump’s Executive Order #13899, issued on December 11, 2019, encouraged government agencies, including the Department of Education, to redefine antisemitism as criticism of Israel in a move designed to censor human rights activists, including students.
In Jan 2020, H.R. 5595, the Israel Anti Boycott Act was introduced, which criminalizes participating in boycotts of Israel, specifically banning U.S. organizations and institutions from complying with boycotts of Israel imposed by international organizations, such as the UN.
We led a Palestinian youth delegation to Capitol Hill in late February 2020, ahead of AIPAC’s lobby day, to respond to this threat to student organizing, and oppose H.R. 5595, as well as H.R. 4009/S. 852 the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, better called the “Silencing Students Act.” The delegation also pushed members to support forward facing legislation like H. Res. 496, proactively supporting the right to boycott for justice.
It was Israel’s ban on boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) for justice for the Palestinian people that banned Rep. Rashida Tlaib from returning home in 2019. She and Rep. Ilhan Omar had only two weeks earlier cast principled dissenting votes against H. Res. 246, the repressive legislation that condemned BDS and demonized the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom, justice, and equality.
After the vote on H. Res. 246, Reps. Omar and Tlaib teamed up with the late Rep. John Lewis—who knew intimately the power boycotts yield—and challenged Congress to stand up for their values. Together, they introduced H. Res. 496, which defends boycotts as a means of dismantling systems of injustice. We honor and extend this history into the present by boycotting in protest of gun violence, transphobic laws, exploitative labor practices, and racism—and of course for justice for the Palestinian people.
With more progressives than ever before connecting with the movement for Palestinian rights, we took action, helping lead the charge with a letter to Congress with 40+ cross-movement partners. All this followed work we led earlier this year to bring together another letter with hundreds of movement leaders, scholars, organizations, and supporters of justice to call on Congress to uphold our right to boycott for justice in Palestine. See our action tool here.
Support Freedom and Justice in the U.S. & Palestine: Oppose H. Res. 246 / S. Res. 120
A resolution in both the House and Senate (H. Res. 246 / S. Res. 120), was passed in the House in July 2019, and condemns the grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions that aims to hold Israel accountable so that Palestinians can gain freedom, justice, and equality. The resolution lends legitimacy to attacks on First Amendment-protected free speech for social justice, gives the right-wing Israeli government the green light to continue attacks on Palestinians, and undermines work toward peace and justice for all people.
Oppose H. R. 4009/S. 852 That Would Stifle Campus Free Speech on Palestine
S. 852 was a pending bill in the Senate, misleadingly titled the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. We agree with Jewish Voice for Peace that the bill would be more accurately titled the “Silencing Students Act.” S. 852 bill adds no new protections for Jewish students. Instead, it undermines real and necessary efforts to combat antisemitism and silences First Amendment-protected speech for Palestinian rights on college campuses.
Combating BDS Act (S. 1 / H.R. 336) is Unconstitutional
H.R. 336 was a pending bill in the House that would encourage states to punish people for boycotting for Palestinian rights. H.R. 336 is the companion bill to S. 1, which the Senate passed 77-23 on February 5 (you can respond to their votes here). Both bills incorporate language from the Combating BDS Act, an unconstitutional bill that was defeated in the last Congress. The Combating BDS Act would punish individuals who boycott for Palestinian rights by encouraging states to deny them government contracts.