News and Commentary

Sanders, Feinstein Urge Senate To Kill ‘Israel Anti-Boycott Act’

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), both frequent critics of the state of Israel, pulled an unsurprising move on Wednesday, sending a letter to the Senate urging that body to exclude S. 720, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” from the year-end appropriations bill.

The duo wrote, “While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government,” the senators said.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), reads:

This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.

The bill amends the Export Administration Act of 1979 to declare that it shall be U.S. policy to oppose:

  • requests by foreign countries to impose restrictive practices or boycotts against other countries friendly to the United States or against U.S. persons; and
  • restrictive trade practices or boycotts fostered or imposed by an international governmental organization, or requests to impose such practices or boycotts, against Israel.

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

Cardin has been pushing to have the bill included in the appropriations bill. A spokesman for Cardin stated, “We don’t want our companies to be forced into implementing other countries’ decisions to boycott U.S. allies … It’s that movement from the international governmental organizations — the UNHRC specifically — that is driving some of the increased urgency of trying to get this done sooner rather than later. Because they’re not waiting for Congress. They’re just plowing ahead.”

The bill is opposed by the ACLU, which claims it could be used to target private citizens. Sanders and Feinstein cited rulings in federal courts in Kansas and Arizona that found similar laws unconstitutional.

Some other Democrats differ from Sanders and Feinstein; The Jerusalem Post reports that The Jewish Democratic Council of America endorsed the bill as “consistent” with the 2016 Democratic Party platform, stating:

The bill will extend existing U.S. legal protections which protect companies from coercion by foreign countries to participate in boycotts of Israel to include protection from boycotts led by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations. We support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, as amended, and urge passage of this legislation during the 115th Congress. We are encouraging JDCA members to write to their member of Congress to support passage of the bill by the end of the year.