Senator Gillibrand pulls support for Israel Anti-Boycott Act

Activists at a 26 July rally in Baltimore protest the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which was introduced by Maryland’s Senator Ben Cardin. New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pulled her support for the bill on 1 August. (Elizabeth Woodson/via Facebook)

In an act unprecedented in recent history, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took a stand this week in support of the right of Americans to boycott Israel by formally withdrawing her sponsorship of S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

The New York Democrat’s withdrawal of her sponsorship comes after constituents repeatedly pressed her on her support of the bill at town hall meetings in New York City.

On 22 July in the Bronx, Gillibrand affirmed that “we are all allowed to boycott” in response to a constituent who laid out his concerns that the bill would criminalize those supporting boycotts of Israel.

At another town hall in Queens on 31 July, Gillibrand stated in response to similar concerns that she would not support the bill in its current form. She made good on her promise by notifying the Senate on 1 August that she wished to withdraw her sponsorship of the bill.

It is exceedingly rare for members of Congress to withdraw their sponsorship from bills. One veteran congressional staffer could recall only one instance of it happening in recent memory when a representative took his name off a bill regulating minor league baseball.

Activists mobilize

This dramatic reversal in Gillibrand’s stance is due to a combination of factors. On 17 July, the American Civil Liberties Union released a strongly worded letter it had sent to members of Congress urging them to oppose the bill, which it termed a “direct violation of the First Amendment.”

The ACLU’s letter ignited a firestorm over the bill and galvanized activists to oppose it.

Local organizations such as WESPAC, Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester and Peace Action NY successfully mobilized to make this bill a central issue at the senator’s town halls. And in conjunction with this grassroots effort, national organizations such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights sent action alerts to New Yorkers deluging Gillibrand’s office with phone calls and emails.

Criminalizing speech

As first reported by The Electronic Intifada in April, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a chilling manifestation of attempts to criminalize Palestine solidarity work and the most draconian of the dozens of anti-BDS bill introduced in recent years.

The powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC has made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.

It would impose fines of up to $1 million and criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison against any US person, including individuals, whose actions further a boycott of Israel or of Israeli settlement products called for by an international governmental organization. The bill would even criminalize the requesting or furnishing of information about such a boycott.

The bill would also deny government loans through the Export-Import Bank to firms that refuse to do business with corporations based in or operating out of Israeli settlements in occupied territory, which are illegal under international law.

Not only does the bill infringe on the First Amendment right to promote boycott, divestment and sanctions, but it also seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

For decades, the US has refused to recognize the legitimacy of these settlements as part of Israel’s territory.

Gillibrand’s bold decision to withdraw her sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act could signal its death knell, at least in its current form. However, with 46 senators and 249 representatives still supporting this unconstitutional bill, its passage remains a threat.

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Evidently Senator Gillibrand decided there were other ways to support Zionism without jailing her own voters. Smart move.

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Hats off to Senator Gillibrand for standing up for what's right and opposing this bill. All other senators and Representatives should be put on notice that cowtowing to powerful lobby groups to infringe on the rights of Americans will not be tolerated and these congress people who are voting for this horrible bill should be voted out of office!!

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Senator Gillibrand is my senator so I thank her for doing the decent thing. I sent her an email and signed a petition and, unlike Senator Schumer, she responded to her constituents by withdrawing support from this deplorable legislation. Americans have a protected right to protest. Any member of Congress who does not recognize and support that needs to be defeated.

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Wow This shows that the Democrats may have a cojon hidden somewhere. And she is a NY senator. She is going to get so much flack from Schumer - I don't envy you Kirsten,

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She will now join Hillary as an X New York Senator.

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I salute Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for her courage in withdrawing support for this unconstitutional bill. Now, it's time for her colleagues in the Senate to do the same. Under the 1st Amendment of free speech, an individual, a group, and even an entire state has the right to call for a boycott on any/all goods made in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and boycott these goods themselves.
Not only does the Israel Anti-Boycott Act violate the US Constitution, it violates International law. Sen. Gillibrand courageously stood up to AIPAC and other like-minded entities and pulled her support of this illegal bill, knowing it's in violation of both US and International law, and her colleagues sorely need to follow in her footsteps. I know that certain Senators won't do that, and they know who they are. The rest should examine their consciences and pull out support, just as Sen. Gillibrand had done.

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The fact that U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand withdrew her support of the for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is refreshing. More so because I always thought she was under the thumb of Senator Charles Schumer, (a co-sponsor of this prospective anti-Constitutional, anti-First Amendment Act, THE quintessential strident, zealot supporter of Israel, the Israel Lobby, and Zionism.
Hopefully, Ms. Gillibrand's actions will lead some other intelligent, and there are not very many, members of Congress to withdraw their support for this heinous act intended to repress free speech and suppress dissent.
Also, this is another indication of the weakening support for Israel, the Israel Lobby, and Zionism. How else to explain the Israel Lobby's desperation to overturn the First Amendment right to free speech in this country, and make instant criminals out of law abiding citizens?
This also gives the American public another glimpse at how invidious and insidious the Israel Lobby operates to protect an apartheid state at all costs.
The Israel Lobby has had to come out of the proverbial closet because operating by stealth and subterfuge isn't working anymore. The American people are finally waking up! Hooray!

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Who are the 46 Senators and 249 Representatives who still support this anti-Amerian bill? And, as an aside, why is a foreign government continually trying to influence, if not control our government?

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It took real courage to drop this co sponsorship and support freedom of speech and we appreciate it. KG is my favorite if Bernie does not run.

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I don't think even Kirsten is aware of what she has done, how courageous the stand she has taken, but I commend her, we need lawmakers for citizens not for strong lobbyists. Palestinians already so demoralised have no way to defend themselves, and BDS is a way to call attention at a minimum to their devastation by Zionists. Ben Cardin of all people as major co-sponsor is just so wrong which means Zionists have American lawmakers over a barrel and have their ears over American citizens and justice be damned.

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My question is why she would sign onto this bill in the first place; the bill's illegality is so obvious. She said she wouldn't sign it "in it's present form." What possible form could it be in to be palatable to anyone with a moral core? Her new stance in rejecting the bill, however, gets public notice, and that's a good thing.

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner's picture

Josh Ruebner is Policy Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. His forthcoming book is tentatively entitled Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.