Mordechai Kamel: Sees problems with anti-boycott bill beyond free speech concerns

Friday, August 11, 2017

Thank you for your editorial “Anti-boycott bill threat to free speech” (Aug. 7). I agree with your conclusion that this is a badly written bill that should never pass. However, I am not sure that the free speech concern, although dangerous, is the only thing concerning about this bill.

This bill also, for the first time, recognizes the territories that Israel occupied in 1967 as an integral part of Israel.

Defenders of the bill say that it doesn’t outlaw anybody’s personal views, but rather punishes actions by companies that knowingly comply with an Israel boycott, and only a certain type of boycott at that. A close reading of the bill shows that the language is so muddled and convoluted that although it may not have been intended to have free speech implications, it can certainly be interpreted that way, and that is a matter of grave concern.

This bill, however has some other very dangerous language. The bill states in its findings section that it is directed at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which last spring targeted Israeli companies doing business “beyond Israel’s 1949 Armistice lines” and companies doing business with them for “commercial boycott.”

Please note that this commercial boycott and blacklist was not called against companies operating in Israel proper, only the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The bill goes on to conflate the UNHRC call for boycott of the occupied territories with the “Arab League Boycott” against Israel proper, which led to Congress passing the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. 4602(5)). The bill’s “Statement Of Policy” states very clearly, that “Congress … opposes the [UNHRC] resolution [aimed at companies] that either operate, or have business relations with entities that operate, beyond Israel’s 1949 Armistice lines,” including East Jerusalem, and — here is the dangerous part — “views such policies as actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” This section seems to commit the United States for the first time to extending its protection, including active legal protection, to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This may very well be the first time since 1967 that Congress has recognized the territories occupied by Israel as being an integral part of Israel, and Israeli commercial activities in those occupied territories as equivalent to commercial activities in Israel proper. This recognition is extremely dangerous, and it could prejudice future relations between Israel and the Palestinians and disqualify the United States as honest broker in any peace process between the parties.

Mordechai Kamel