House Republicans introduce controversial anti-BDS legislation

Republican Member of the House, Lee Zeldin (Erin Scott - Reuters).jpg

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 3, 2022

New legislation is introduced a month after a Texas court ruled a similar bill was in violation of US Constitution

US Congressman Lee Zeldin on Thursday introduced a bill aimed at fighting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a little over a month after a Texas court ruled a similar piece of legislation was in violation of the Constitution’s free speech rights.

The bill, supported by top House Republicans including Conference Chair Elise Stefanik and Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul, would effectively bar US citizens and companies from providing information to foreign countries and international organizations that “have the effect of furthering” the boycott of Israel.

The legislation also prohibits the US from participating in boycotts, or requests for boycotts, of “a country which is friendly to the United States”.

It considers the UN Human Rights Council’s database of companies doing business in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights to be an act of BDS, and therefore opposes it.

“This legislation not only reinforces congressional opposition to the BDS movement, but protects American companies from being forced to provide information to international organizations that peddle this hate-filled movement, and holds those who attempt to violate that protection accountable,” Zeldin said in a statement.

A similar bill was introduced in 2018 by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican Rob Portman, and another anti-BDS bill was introduced by Senators Marco Rubio and Joe Manchin in 2021.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), highlighted that the legislation was introduced at the same time that the US was embracing and pushing towards a global boycott against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Free speech violations

Dozens of US states have implemented their own forms of legislation against BDS, a non-violent and Palestinian-led initiative encouraging individuals, nations and organizations to censure Israel’s consistent violations of international law and human rights standards through various boycotts.

The bills have sought to cut off contractors and businesses that refuse to sign contracts stating they will not participate in a boycott of Israel.

Free speech and Palestinian advocacy groups have slammed the growing number of anti-BDS bills in state legislatures, accusing sponsors of legislation of trying to muzzle criticism of Israel at the expense of the US constitution.

Despite the laws that have been passed, several courts in recent years have ruled that they are in violation of the Constitution and the free speech protections it provides under its First Amendment.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Texas ruled as such, and last year a court in the state of Georgia ruled its anti-BDS law also violated the First Amendment.