Thirteen Democratic Senators

I’ve written about this before and it is now closer to becoming law. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720) is a piece of legislation promoted by a foreign nation that will violate the civil liberties of Americans. It joins recent laws in Turkey and Poland criminalizing “insults” to a nation. But it is fundamentally a form of thought control that has no place in a democracy.

S.720 is co-sponsored by 51 U.S. Senators. To their shame, thirteen are Democrats: Michael Bennet (CO); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Maria Cantwell (WA); Christopher Coons (DE); Joe Donnelly (IN); Margaret Hassan (NH); Joe Manchin (WV); Claire McCaskill (MO); Robert Menendez (NJ); Bill Nelson (FL); Gary Peters (MI); Charles Schumer (NY); and Ron Wyden (OR).

S.720 criminalizes speech and forbids political expression. The Anti-Israel Boycott Act is basically a Sedition Act in disguise which punishes any American joining a boycott to oppose the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinians with a fine of up to $1 million or imprisonment up to 20 years.

S.720 wants to have it both ways — doing the bidding of a foreign nation (Israel) while punishing Americans from following boycotts suggested by a foreign entity (the UN and the still-stateless Palestinian people).

Whether the bill is eventually successful or not, the ACLU notes the harm it has already done:

“On its face, the bill appears to directly prohibit boycott activity that is protected under the First Amendment. Even if the bill could be interpreted more narrowly, as some of its supporters claim, its broad language could still chill protected expression by scaring people into self-censorship. Either way, the bill would impose serious First Amendment harms.”

According to S.720’s subsection (a)(1) the bill criminalizes even gathering information about companies doing business in Israel or in occupied Palestinian territories. You post an inquiry on Facebook — for example, does Sodastream manufacture its products in the West Bank? The next thing you know, you face arrest or a fine.

Besides violating the rights of Americans, S.720 is a perfect example of the sort of foreign meddling that Democrats claim to hate. S.720 is promoted by numerous pro-Israel groups like AIPAC whose single focus on promoting Israeli interests should require it to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Even Canada is obliged to register its lobbyists but no such limitations apply to AIPAC, which literally pays American legislators to work for Israel’s interests.

Imagine if Russian lobbyists did the same — worked through a group we’ll call ARPAC — the American Russian Political Action Committee — to create legislation to criminalize sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs. Or imagine ATPAC — the American Turkish Political Action Committee — buying support to keep Americans from mentioning the Armenian Genocide or protesting Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish people.

What’s especially galling to Americans is that the Senate is telling us we can’t take political action against a foreign country knee deep in corruption — a country with a prime minister about to be indicted for criminal conspiracy. A country in which the former prime minister went to jail for bribery and influence-peddling. The Senate needs to be reminded: Israel is not our 51st state.

S.720 echoes laws in Israel which have already criminalized the BDS movement in “the Middle East’s only democracy.” The Senate bill also joins a growing list of American “gag” legislation written for agribusiness, anti-abortion zealots, and pipeline companies. The Trump administration now seems eager to join its authoritarian counterparts in China, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland, the Philippines, and elsewhere in policing the views of its citizens.

And thirteen Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, are just fine with that.