Israel Anti-Boycott Act

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IABA) (H.R. 1697; S. 720) is a proposed anti-BDS law[2] and amendment to the Export Administration Act of 1979 designed to allow U.S. states to enact laws requiring contractors to sign pledges promising not to boycott any goods from Israel, or their contracts would be terminated.

Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Great Seal of the United States
Full titleTo amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to include in the prohibitions on boycotts against allies of the United States boycotts fostered by international governmental organizations against Israel and to direct the Export-Import Bank of the United States to oppose boycotts against Israel, and for other purposes.
Introduced in115th United States Congress
Introduced onMarch 23, 2017
Sponsored byRep. Peter Roskam (R, IL-06)
Number of co-sponsors292
Effects and codifications
Act(s) affectedExport Administration Act of 1979; Export–Import Bank of the United States[1]
Legislative history

The law is a response to the BDS movement's call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel which is gaining ground in the US. Lawmakers hope to curb the growth of BDS which they consider to be anti-Semitic by making it difficult to participate in anti-Israel boycotts. As of 2020, 32 state legislatures have already passed bills similar to IABA. If the law was passed in the federal legislature, it would be easier to enforce. Critics of the law and supporters of BDS claims that it is unconstitutional. They claim that participation in politically motivated boycotts is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment and that anti-BDS laws are a form of lawfare.

IABA was drafted by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and introduced to the 115th session of Congress in 2018. It had 58 cosponsors in the Senate,[3] and 292 cosponsors in the House (216 Republicans, 76 Democrats).[4] The act consisted of House and Senate bills HR 1697 and S 720 and died in Congress. However, there is strong opposition to BDS in American politics and the act is expected to make a resurgence in the federal legislature in the future.[5] In the 115th session of Congress it had 58 cosponsors in the Senate (42 Republicans, 15 Democrats, 1 Independent),[4]

Legislative historyEdit

The bill was introduced by the identical House and Senate bills HR 1697 and S 720 on March 23, 2017 by Republican Representative Peter Roskam and Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin respectively.[6][7]

The purpose of the bill was to amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 to bar US citizens from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements. Violations would be subject to minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.[1]

The bill cited the United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) March 2016 resolution calling for the creation of a database of companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories as an example of a boycott supposedly covered by the law. Anyone choosing to not buy from companies listed in the database could, according to the bill's critics, be in violation and risk facing penalties or even jail time.[8]

The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an amended version of the bill on June 28, 2018 and on March 3, 2018, Cardin released an amended version in the Senate. The amended bill removed the jail time provisions, but knowing violations of the bill could still lead to criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million.[9] All three version of the bill were unconstitutional, according to those critics who criticized it on First Amendment grounds.[10] The amended versions of the bill were also criticized by proponents of anti-BDS laws. Republicans Alan Clemmons and Joseph Sabag of the Israeli American Council wrote in an op-ed in The Hill:[11]

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. ... 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.

In late 2018, attempts were made from both sides of the aisle to include the bill in the Appropriations bill.[9] The attempts were criticized by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) who stated:[12]

We believe including this bill would violate the spirit of cooperation and commitment that Senate appropriators have made to oppose controversial riders on appropriations bills, ... While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government, ...

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who originally co-sponsored the bill withdrew her support from it in 2017, citing concerns over free speech. She remains opposed to the BDS movement. The pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC criticized her change of heart.[13]

Combating BDS ActEdit

In 2019, Senator Marco Rubio, who cosponsored the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced the Combating BDS Act, cosponsored by Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri). The bill is meant to enable states to pass anti-boycott legislation with federal blessing.[14] It has received reception similar to IABA. On February 5, 2019, the Senate passed the bill and other Middle East policy bills. As of May 2019 it seems as though the House will not be taking up the bill in the foreseeable future.[15]

Support and oppositionEdit

Supporters of the bill argue that it does not stymie free speech. The bills co-sponsor Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) tweeted: "Opposition to our bill isn’t about free speech. Companies are FREE to boycott Israel. But local and state governments should be free to end contracts with companies that do". Eugene Kontorovich who has helped states draft anti-BDS laws has argued that they aren't about free speech, but that those wishing to boycott Israel should not benefit from government contracts or taxpayer money.[16]

AIPAC continues to support the IABA and similar legislation, saying that, "(the legislation) protects the First Amendment rights of those who choose to boycott Israel in their personal capacity."[17] However, organizations like the ACLU disagree and have sought lawsuits on those grounds.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b "ACLU Letter to the Senate Opposing Israel Anti-Boycott Act". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved Aug 19, 2020.
  2. ^ "War by Other Means". FDD. Jan 20, 2020. Retrieved Aug 14, 2020. The 115th Congress considered, but did not pass, two major anti-BDS bills. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IABA) sought to extend existing anti-boycott provisions in U.S. law to cover explicitly boycotts initiated by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations.
  3. ^ Cardin, Benjamin L. (23 March 2017). "Cosponsors - S.720 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Israel Anti-Boycott Act".
  4. ^ a b Cardin, Benjamin L. (23 March 2017). "Cosponsors - S.720 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Israel Anti-Boycott Act".
  5. ^ "Israel Anti-Boycott Act (2017 - S. 720)". Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  6. ^ "Goodies for Israel Bills Continue to Move Forward".
  7. ^ Cardin, Benjamin L. (23 March 2017). "S.720 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Israel Anti-Boycott Act".
  8. ^ "How the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Threatens First Amendment Rights". American Civil Liberties Union. Jul 26, 2017. Retrieved Aug 19, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Congress Is Trying to Use the Spending Bill to Criminalize Boycotts of Israel and Other Countries". American Civil Liberties Union.
  10. ^ "Oppose Israel Anti-Boycott Act". US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Jul 18, 2017. Retrieved Aug 19, 2020.
  11. ^ Clemmons, Alan; Sabag, Joseph; Contributors, Opinion (Sep 7, 2018). "Amended Israel Anti-Boycott Act is harmful, not helpful". TheHill. Retrieved Aug 19, 2020.
  12. ^ "Sanders, Feinstein Oppose Inclusion of Israel Anti-Boycott Act in Appropriations Bill". Sen. Bernie Sanders. December 19, 2018.
  13. ^ "Has Gillibrand's position on Israel changed?". @politifact.
  14. ^ Rubio, Marco (January 17, 2017). "S.170 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Combating BDS Act of 2017".
  15. ^ "Breaking Down the Combating BDS Act of 2019 and First Amendment Challenges to State Anti-BDS Laws". Lawfare. 19 March 2019.
  16. ^ Kontorovich, Eugene (July 27, 2017). "Opinion | Israel anti-boycott bill does not violate free speech". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  17. ^ "The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720)". AIPAC - The American Israel Public Affairs Committee. October 2018. Retrieved May 6, 2019.