DON’T UNDERMINE THE FIRST AMENDMENT
TO SERVE THE INTERESTS OF ANOTHER COUNTRY!
On June 28 the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced and passed a brand new version of the federal Israel Anti-Boycott Act, HR 1697. This new bill (sometimes referred to as the “Royce Amendment”) is reportedly being fast-tracked as a “non-controversial” matter under a suspension of the rules, and could come up as early as this week for a vote by the entire House. Under a rules suspension, a bill needs a 2/3 majority of those present and voting in order to pass, so our goal is to get more than 1/3 to vote NO. It is critically important to CALL your Representative to let them know just how controversial and damaging this new bill really is.
The new bill calls for amending the existing anti-boycott regulations, which were issued under the Export Administration Act of 1979 in order to combat the Arab boycott of Israel. These regulations would be amended to cover boycotts “fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization,” such as the UN or EU.
Under the amended regulations, for example, boycotting or divesting from a company because it has been identified by the UN as complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights would be punishable by a fine of $50,000 or 5 years in jail or both.
The new bill would punish sole proprietorships and small businesses, such as a caterer who boycotts Israeli wines produced in illegal settlements, or a lawyer in solo practice who chooses not to purchase Hewlett-Packard equipment for his firm.
The new bill would punish for-profit as well as non-profit organizations, including major religious denominations which for reasons of conscience divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation.
The new bill applies to individuals – i.e., human beings – if acting in an official capacity as an owner, officer, director, employee, or agent of an organization.
If an individual is engaging in a personal boycott – not in an official capacity as part of an organization – the new bill does not apply. However, since the language protecting personal boycotts is tied to current enforcement practices – which can change – there is no guarantee that this protection will continue.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE NEW BILL?
The new bill is unconstitutional, because it punishes participation in peaceful political boycotts that are protected under the First Amendment. We understand that the ACLU intends to send a letter to the House making this point.
It is a fundamental misconception to characterize the new bill as a minor extension of the existing regulations. The existing regulations protected persons from being coerced into participating in a boycott imposed by the Arab League. The new bill prohibits persons from voluntarily participating in a boycott recommended by the UN. There is all the difference in the world from being protected against a boycott you do not want to participate in, and being prohibited from participating in a boycott you do want to participate in.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Call your Representative. Urge him or her to ATTEND the session when the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, amended HR 1697, is scheduled for a vote and VOTE AGAINST IT. Tell your Representative that a bill that violates the First Amendment should never be fast-tracked as “non-controversial.” Ask him or her not to undermine our First Amendment to serve the interests of another country.