Letter-Writing Wednesday: The Anti-Anti-Boycott Act


[I sent a copy of this letter to all my congressional representatives.]

Dear Senator/Representative:

As an American citizen with Jewish ancestry, I’m writing to oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act now being considered by Congress. I’m asking you not to co-sponsor this bill and to vote against it if it comes up.

As written, this bill criminalizes cooperating with any international initiative to boycott Israel, or even requesting information about such boycotts, under a potential penalty of 20 years in prison. This is a shockingly extreme and radical proposal that would punish people for lawful political activity. It’s more than unconstitutional, it’s anti-constitutional, in exactly the same sense as a bill that compelled Americans to attend services at a church under pain of imprisonment would be.

The right to boycott flows from the basic right of freedom of association. It’s fundamental to our freedom as citizens and consumers that we can choose which businesses to patronize and where to spend our money. A boycott is an effective signal that we won’t support those who advocate harmful policies. It’s outrageous that our elected officials, Republican and Democrat alike, think this freedom is up for grabs and can be taken away at any time; or worse, that U.S. citizens can be told who to associate with and who to support.

As written, the act not just allows for but practically demands selective and politically motivated prosecutions. Since it’s obviously impossible to know with certainty why a person or a business is choosing not to do business with Israeli companies, prosecutors would have enormous discretion to charge anyone they want to. Combined with the draconian punishments allowed by the bill, this is an unacceptably dangerous tool, especially in the hands of the current administration, which has shown less than zero concern for equality, consistency or the rule of law.

Even beyond the constitutional concerns raised by this bill, many Americans, including those of Jewish ancestry, are deeply concerned by Israel’s drift toward theocratic right-wing nationalism and aggressive war footing. The Israeli government has shown preference for ultra-fundamentalist sects that want to ban interracial marriage and bar women from public life, and they’ve encouraged the spread of illegal settlements that are like a steady drip of poison into the dwindling hopes for peace in the region.

It’s worth noting that, for all the support America has shown Israel, they don’t do much to return the favor. The largest branches of American Judaism aren’t even recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. It would seem that Israel expects liberal and progressive Jews to advocate for them while offering nothing in return.

Considering how little America gets out of this relationship, I don’t understand why the country is so devoted to it. A rational reevaluation of all our entanglements in the Middle East is long overdue. As a first step, we can begin by rejecting this terrible bill. Please vote accordingly.

Image credit: James Emery, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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