Amidst the attempts to crush anti-"Israeli" movements, US Senator Ben Cardin is once again trying to pass legislation designed to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement for Palestinian rights.
During the last Congressional session, the Maryland Democrat succeeded in sneaking language into a must-pass trade bill making it a "principal negotiating objective" of the US "to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from or sanction ‘Israel'" while negotiating trade deals.
This discouragement of BDS extended to boycotts of products originating from settlements in what the bill euphemistically referred to as "‘Israeli'-controlled territories." All of the "Israeli" settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria's Golan Heights are illegal under international law.
But with the Trump administration's skepticism toward free trade deals and its withdrawal of the US from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, it seems unlikely that the US in the near term will be leveraging anti-BDS pressure through trade negotiations as Cardin envisioned.
With BDS continuing to gain momentum, Cardin went back to the drawing board and introduced the "Israel" Anti-Boycott Act on 23 March, designed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American "Israel" Public Affairs Committee.
The powerful "Israel" lobby group duly made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.
The Senate version of the bill - S.720 - currently has 18 cosponsors - 14 Republicans and four Democrats.
Its counterpart in the House - H.R.1697 - introduced by Illinois Republican Peter Roskam, has 91 co-sponsors at present, about two-thirds of them Republicans.
The bill opposes the creation of a database of "Israeli" settlement companies by the UN Human Rights Council and any efforts to boycott those companies' products.
According to Cardin and the other original sponsors of the "Israel" Anti-Boycott Act, the bill also seeks to "prevent the implementation of similar ‘blacklists' or boycotts in the future."
It aims to do so in a heavy-handed manner: by imposing governmental sanctions - denial of loans, fines and even potentially jail time - on companies complying with calls from the UN Human Rights Council to boycott "Israeli" settlement products.
If it becomes law, the bill could also sweep up in its broad ambit companies refusing to do business with Israeli settlements whatever their source of inspiration for doing so may be. These sanctions would also apply to potential future international governmental calls for a broader boycott of "Israel".
The draconian nature of the bill is shrewdly shrouded. None of the above-mentioned sanctions are specified in the actual text of the bill.
Only by closely examining the underlying laws which would be amended by this bill does its intent become evident: to harshly punish those companies which exercise their First Amendment-protected right to engage in boycotts of Israeli settlement products.
The bill seeks to amend two laws - the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 - to accomplish its aim.
The Export Administration Act is the primary law which makes it illegal for US corporations to comply with the Arab League boycott of "Israel". The Department of Commerce maintains an Office of Anti-Boycott Compliance to ensure US corporations do not participate in the Arab League boycott and to fine those that do.
The "Israel" Anti-Boycott Act would amend this law to encompass "restrictive trade practices or boycotts fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against ‘Israel' or requests to impose restrictive trade practices or boycotts by any international governmental organization against ‘Israel'."
Even if a corporation was not responding directly to a call from an international governmental organization to boycott the "Israeli" entity or even settlement products, it could still run afoul of this bill if its actions are perceived to "have the effect of furthering or supporting" this boycott.
The potential penalties for violating this bill are steep: a minimum $250,000 civil penalty and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years imprisonment, as stipulated in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
The bill specifies that international governmental organizations include the UN and EU, a clear indication the legislation is intended to counteract the limited steps the UN Human Rights Council has taken to catalog "Israeli" settlement products and the EU's labeling - but not prohibition - of those products.
Source: EI, Edited by website team