WASHINGTON, DC, August 2, 2017 – In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has formally withdrawn her sponsorship of S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Senator Gillibrand’s withdrawal comes after pressure from constituents who repeatedly questioned her support for the bill at recent town halls in New York City, concerned about its threat to the civil liberties of Americans and to the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. Senator Gillibrand’s withdrawal marks one of the few times a member of Congress has removed their name from a bill supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a chilling manifestation of attempts to criminalize Americans who support Palestinian human rights, and has raised protests from civil liberties groups such as the ACLU. The bill seeks to impose fines of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in prison, as well as to deny government loans to corporations refusing to do business in Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in violation of international law and nearly 50 years of official US policy. Not only does it infringe on the First Amendment-protected right to promote BDS but the bill also seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlements. The language of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act equates illegal Israeli settlements with Israel, breaking with decades of US policy of refusing to recognize settlements as legally part of Israel.
“It’s exceedingly rare for members of Congress to withdraw their sponsorship of bills, especially on this issue,” stated Josh Ruebner, Policy Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “We thank Sen. Gillibrand for listening to her constituents’ concerns about this bill and removing her sponsorship after realizing the draconian nature of the penalties it would impose on individuals exercising their First Amendment right to engage in boycotts in support of Palestinian human rights.”
Sen. Gillibrand’s withdrawal comes after pressure from national and grassroots organizers mobilized with support from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, including WESPAC, Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester, and Peace Action NY. In front of a large crowd in Queens on July 24 and in response to local activists questioning her support for the bill, Sen. Gillibrand stated that she would not support it in its current form, strongly refusing to “support any bill that chills free speech.” In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union sent an open letter to members of Congress urging them to refrain from sponsorship on July 17.
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) is a national coalition of hundreds of groups working together for freedom, justice and equality. Founded in 2001 as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, USCPR has been a leading player in the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States. The coalition is bound by commonly shared principles on Palestine solidarity as well as anti-racism principles.
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