Congress Blog

Amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act is harmful, not helpful

The United Nations Human Rights Council is poised to roll out a blacklist of companies that do business with Israel, including major U.S. employers like Caterpillar and Coca-Cola. Companies on the blacklist will then be harassed with boycotts and negative publicity stunts unless and until they join in their attackers' boycotts. Unfortunately, a major piece of legislation designed to protect U.S. companies from being targeted by such boycott pressure has been gutted in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The amended version of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (HR 1697) sent out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee eliminates an existing definition that provided anti-boycott coverage for "Israel and Israeli-controlled territories." This definition of boycotts was passed and made federal law under the Obama administration. "Israeli-controlled territories" accounts for Jerusalem and the Biblical heartland regions of Judea and Samaria aka West Bank, toward which the UNHRC boycott is aimed.

In essence, the amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act has not merely been amended. Rather, it eliminates the fundamental operating provisions of the original bill by only providing impermanent, easily revocable protections for the Israeli-controlled territories the UNHRC is specifically seeking to target. The blame for this unraveling belongs to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose staff designed the bill and ultimately watered it down in response to hostile Democratic demands as it proceeded through the legislative process.

Given the influx of anti-Israel elements among the Democrats, and their opposition to President Trump's movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, it isn't surprising that they are now seeking to undo policy provisions that would otherwise bind a subsequent Democratic president. The Foreign Affairs Committee amendments are a clear capitulation to Democrats' embrace of at least some forms of BDS (so-called "settlements BDS"). For such a law to pass in a Republican Congress with a Republican president would set a dangerously low ceiling for pro-Israel legislation - a lower one than existed under Obama.

It is to be expected that the corresponding bill tracking through the Senate, which aligns with the original House version, will come under pressure to be similarly downgraded should the House pass the amended bill. Also, half the American states have already passed laws that specifically rely upon the existing Obama administration definition, which would then be jeopardized by federal preemption issues. Once these policies are undone, it's likely that the Democrats would never again agree to any bill that provides protection for Jerusalem or Israeli-controlled territories.

Despite the misrepresentations of some anti-Israel Democrats, policies protecting Jerusalem and Israeli-controlled territories in no way prejudice efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. On the other hand, removing these protections would endanger the livelihood of the many thousands of Palestinian households that depend upon Israeli employers. Such a move would also jeopardize tens of billions of dollars of U.S. exports to Israel, and lend legitimacy to the efforts of anti-Semitic groups wishing to wage economic warfare upon Jews in Jerusalem and over the 1949 armistice line.

Like the 2015 Iran Review Act fiasco, which was also the result of AIPAC's misguided efforts, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act demonstrates the conflict between making good policy and serving partisan interests. This time around, the pro-Israel community must not allow the function of critical legislation to be sold out by AIPAC for the sake of manufacturing bipartisan appearances. The pro-Israel community must now make a non-partisan effort, working without any regard to party interests. Those who support good policy must work together to defeat the efforts of those who oppose it. Let the votes be cast as they may.

All support must now be thrown behind the existing Senate bill, which was designed to allay Democratic concerns from the outset, while still protecting U.S. companies and our strategic ally from bigoted and discriminatory boycotts. Otherwise, should the amended House bill prove to be what arrives on President Trump's desk, it will not be worthy of signing.

Alan Clemmons is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and author of the nation's first legislation condemning BDS. Joseph Sabag is executive director of the Israel Allies Foundation.

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