‘Protest Israel, Go To Prison’–Says A Bill Introduced In The Senate

Boycott Israel, go to prison.

You read that right.

If a bill introduced on March 23 goes through the legislative process, and President Donald Trump signs it, the federal government would then have full authority to prosecute American citizens who speak out against Israel.

This type of legislation is not surprising coming from Republicans. But the sponsor is Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and it has several Democratic cosponsors:

S.720 – Israel Anti-Boycott Act, drafted with the help of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), appears innocuous.

Its summary states:

“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.”

It goes on to explain:

“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.”

Basically, the United States will oppose any foreign government that implements boycotts against Israel.

But the most insidious and unconstitutional part is embedded in section four:

Violations Of Section 8(a).—Whoever knowingly violates or conspires to or attempts to violate any provision of section 8(a) or any regulation, order, or license issued thereunder shall be fined in accordance with section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1705).”

Click the link explaining section 206 of the International Economic Powers Act, and we find this:

Ҥ1705. Penalties

(c) Criminal penalty

A person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, an unlawful act described in subsection (a) shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.”

 Look at it again:

“… fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.”

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill, arguing:

“[It] would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs.”

Josh Ruebner is policy director for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and the author of the forthcoming book, Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State.

About the proposed legislation, he said:

“It’s the most draconian of the dozens of anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions bills that had been introduced both at the federal level and the state level. The notion that you can put in prison somebody for making a moral decision to boycott in the United States of America is just fundamentally at odds and a contradiction to the founding values upon which this country was based.”

He added:

“Let’s not forget that this country was founded in large part upon an act of civil disobedience, an act of boycott, of course, the Tea Party and dumping the British tea into the ocean to protest taxation without representation. Throughout the history of this country, boycotts have been used to advance all types of causes from abolishing slavery to gaining women’s enfranchisement to promoting civil rights to promoting farm workers’ rights, et cetera. Of course, boycott is not a tactic of the left or of the right. It’s used by both to pursue their political goals, and it’s a fundamental First Amendment guaranteed right that we enjoy.”

 On the bill’s deceptiveness, Ruebner said:

“It’s very clever, because nowhere in the actual text of the bill does it say, ‘You might go to jail for 20 years if you boycott Israel or an Israeli settlement product,’ but you have to look at underlying language which leads to more underlying language that brings up these criminal penalties.”

It’s unfortunate it is Democrats, many of whom are known to lean progressive, affixed their names to a bill that essentially advocates infringing on Americans’ First Amendment protections.

Perhaps it was simply a case of blindly supporting something because it has to do with Israel.

In either case, if your senator’s name is listed above, feel free to call him or her, and share your thoughts with a staffer. Tweet them too.

Democrats usually listen to their constituents.


Featured image from Wikimedia Commons under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license.


Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.