Congressional Republicans continue to push legislation that targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and their first move of 2020 is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. The legislation, which was introduced by rabidly pro-Israel Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), would an add an amendment to the Export Administration Act of 1979 that would prohibit boycotts against United States allies (such as Israel) and block requests for boycotts by “international governmental organizations.”
The bill cites the United Nations and the European Union, groups that have promoted boycotts in recent years. These calls did not encourage a commercial boycott of Israel, but an economic campaign that specifically targets Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. This means that, despite attempts to frame the legislation as an attempt to stop boycotts of Israel, it’s actually a bill about settlements. In fact, the act establishes that congress should view the United Nations Human Rights Council’s creation of a database that compiles a list of companies doing business in the occupied territories as an act of BDS that should be opposed.
The Export Administration Act of 1979 is federal legislation that was used as a tool to combat the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prohibiting United States businesses from participating in the boycott. In a comprehensive post breaking down the specifics of Zeldin’s bill, Foundation for Middle East Peace President Lara Friedman points out that it looks to conflate coercive boycotts of Israel (where businesses were forced to boycott the country in order to business with certain foreign organizations) and current BDS activities meant to protest the occupation.
In a statement announcing the bill’s introduction, Rep. Zeldin referenced recent antisemitic violence as one of the reasons that the legislation must be passed. “We have witnessed the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hate throughout the world, in our nation, on college campuses and within the halls of Congress under the guise of the BDS movement, and whether this bigotry is brazen or it’s blatant anti-Semitism deceptively called ‘legitimate’ we must crush it wherever it exists,” said Zeldin, “Too many in Congress have emboldened this rhetoric by accepting the BDS movement whose founder, in referring to Zionism, said ‘I, for one, support euthanasia’, and coming off of a Hanukkah which will be remembered for the sick amount of violent anti-Semitic attacks, we must combat this anti-Israel hate wherever it rears its ugly head. This legislation would not only reinforce Congress’ opposition to the BDS movement, but protects American companies from being forced to provide information to international organizations that peddle this hate-filled movement, and holds those who attempt to violate that protection accountable.”
This isn’t the only time BDS has come up in Congress this week. On January 15, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism held a hearing on the rise of antisemitic violence. Panelists Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism John Miller, George Mason Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich, and president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Cliff May.
In his remarks, Kontorovich admitted that the BDS movement didn’t promote violence, but said that it “seeks to make anti-Semitism acceptable in polite society.” He then called on Congress to pass the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. “To anti-Zionists, Jewish lives do not matter,” Cliff May told the room.
Zeldin’s bill is currently co-sponsored by 58 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York. Last year, when Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-D) criticized the political influence of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Suozzi rushed to defend the organization. “AIPAC is a not-for-profit that promotes US – Israel relations and specifically does not make donations to political campaigns,” he tweeted, “My support for Israel is based upon our shared values, our national security interests, and the history of the region.”
The Senate passed a different anti-BDS last February, but it hasn’t received a vote in the House. Every Senator currently running for the Democratic nomination voted against the ⁸legislation, besides Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.