Letter sent to Washington State Congressional delegation on May 8:
We are Washington residents and Washington organizations joining with Washington Freedom to Boycott because of our grave concerns about the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720 and H.R. 1697. These bills are part of a concerted campaign to suppress criticism of Israeli policies and to condemn the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. Even in their amended forms, these bills would have a chilling impact and possible serious consequences for our freedoms of speech and action.
Whatever your views on Israel, Palestine, or the BDS movement, we urge you not to support or vote for any anti-boycott measure that threatens our right to take collective action against injustice.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that boycotts are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. From the boycott of British tea in 1773 to the boycott of segregated buses in 1956 and beyond, boycott campaigns have a long and proud history in social justice and civil rights movements in the U.S.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is a grassroots campaign to gain equal rights for Palestinians and to pressure Israel to abide by international humanitarian law. While BDS is modeled after the South African boycott and thus calls for broad boycotts against Israeli institutions, nothing in it calls for discrimination against individuals solely because of their national origin, religion, or ethnicity.
S. 720 seeks to prohibit boycotts called by foreign governments or government entities. BDS is not a governmental entity. It is a call to action issued by a group of individuals and civilian associations. However, S.720 specifically defines the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) as a governmental organization. As a result, anyone who boycotts any of the Israeli products the UNHCR has listed could be subject to the penalties delineated in the 1979 Export Administration Act as referenced by S. 720.
Despite arguments to the contrary, S. 720 and H.R. 1697 can be used to target individuals. Their terminology of “domestic concern” can be interpreted to mean a corporation, a church, a sole proprietorship, or even an individual participating in an organization. Although the amended version of S. 720 has removed the possibility of a prison sentence, the bill still threatens a fine for noncompliance and therefore unconstitutionally threatens protected boycott actions.
These anti-boycott measures are not standing up to legal and other scrutiny. In Dickinson, Texas, the City Council had to reverse its position on aid to individual hurricane victims after a national outcry about how a Texas anti-BDS law was being applied. The ACLU has mounted lawsuits on behalf of a Kansas teacher and an Arizona lawyer who have been negatively impacted by anti-BDS legislation in their respective states. On January 30, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Kansas anti-BDS law that calls for contractors to certify that they are not engaged in boycotting Israel, saying that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”
Brian Hauss, ACLU attorney, stated, “The court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law...This ruling should serve as a warning to government officials around the country that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts.”
We ask that you refuse to sign, sponsor, endorse or vote for any form of anti-BDS or anti-boycott legislation. Please stand firm in support of our constitutional rights and freedoms.
Washington Freedom to Boycott
Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites
Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington State (CAIR)
Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land
(Diocese of Olympia)
Evergreen Students for Justice in Palestine
Freedom Socialist Party
International Trauma Treatment Program
Jewish Voice for Peace – Seattle
Jewish Voice for Peace - Tacoma
Kairos Puget Sound Coalition
Northwest Detention Center Resistance
Northwest Regional BDS Coalition
Occupation Free Seattle
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace
Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL)
Palestine Solidarity Committee - Seattle
Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane
Peace Justice and Healing - Tacoma
Race & Climate Justice – Seattle
Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice
Rising Tide - Seattle
Seattle Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (Seattle CISPES)
Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC)
Stop Veolia – Seattle
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Antioch University – Seattle
Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights - University of Washington (SUPER-UW)
United for Peace of Pierce County
Vancouver for Peace
Veterans for Peace - Greater Seattle Chapter 92
Veterans for Peace – Rachel Corrie Chapter 109
Voices for Palestine
Washington Fair Trade Coalition
Whatcom Human Rights Task Force
Whatcom Peace and Justice Center
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