The Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement purports to seek freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. In reality, though, it’s a movement that targets and distorts Israel's record in a way not applied to any other democratic nation. It also strives to delegitimize Israel among the family of nations and pushes an agenda that seeks the end of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.
It’s precisely because of the one-sided unfairness of the movement — one that has attracted not only anti-Zionists, but also anti-Semites to its campaign — that more than 20 states have passed anti-BDS laws, and that Congress is considering the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IAB).
The IAB expands existing U.S. boycott laws that already prohibit Americans from participating in foreign government-led boycotts against Israel to include participation in similar efforts by international nongovernmental organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations and its various bodies.
A bit of history first: Following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the Arab League established a boycott against Israel and those maintaining business relations with Israel, in effect forcing countries to do business either in Israel or in the Arab states. Some readers may remember that when Coca-Cola opened a bottling plant in Tel Aviv, the Arab League placed the company on a boycott list and Coke could no longer sell its products in Arab nations supporting the boycott.
In 1977, Congress passed the Export Administration Act (EAA), making compliance with such a boycott illegal and authorizing penalties for those refusing to do business with Israel. Under the act, a company seeking, for example, to do business with Saudi Arabia can no more give the Saudis information to prove it is not also doing business with Israel than it can furnish information about the race and religion of its employees.
The bipartisan IAB came about because certain nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been following in the footsteps of the Arab League in calling for boycotts of Israel. The UN Human Rights Council last year approved a resolution to establish a blacklist of companies operating or investing beyond the green line. The IAB is designed to discourage these NGOs from imposing similar BDS measures.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a lot of misinformation about the IAB and its possible effect on free speech. As much as I admire the American Civil Liberties Union and generally support its stances on civil liberties, immigration and the First Amendment, on this one item, the ACLU has it wrong.
The IAB has no effect on free speech. In keeping with longstanding U.S. policy, it affects commercial conduct concerning boycotts that are contrary to U.S. foreign policy.
Nothing in the measure prevents anyone, whether an individual, corporation or a nonprofit, from expressing political beliefs. The act, in fact, does not prevent any individual, corporation or nonprofit from choosing not to invest in Israel, buy Israeli products or sell products in Israel.
As with all legislation, the IAB needs some tweaking to ensure that it is well defined and devoid of any language that may distort its intent.
But, as the campaign to single out Israel — a democratic state that shares our American values continues — as the sole reason that Palestinians do not have a homeland, Congress is right to ensure that individuals and corporation do not adhere to boycotts that are contrary to U.S. foreign policy.
Israel and the Palestinians will achieve peace only through dialogue and reconciliation, not by demonizing and delegitimizing the democratic state of Israel.
Ron Klein served in Congress from 2007 to 2011.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.