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ACLU Falsely Claims That Anti-Boycott Legislation Limits Free Speech

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one time the nation’s premier civil rights organization, has falsely characterized legislation that would penalize companies that boycott Israel as limiting free speech.

A letter posted at the organization’s website claimed that the bipartisan legislation, which supports state laws barring contracts with businesses that boycott Israel, “flies in the face of the First Amendment’s guarantee that the state should impose no law infringing on the right to speak freely and to associate with those of like mind.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R – Fla.), the main sponsor of the bill, defended his bill on Twitter, explaining, “My bill doesn’t punish any political activity. It protects the right of local & state govts that decide to no longer do business with those who boycott #Israel. So boycotting #Israel is a constitutional right,but boycotting those participating in #BDS isn’t?”

In July 2017, legal expert Eugene Kontrovich explained that the proposed legislation was nothing more than an updating of existing legislation that prohibited American companies from participating in the Arab boycott of Israel. However, given the efforts of the United Nations Humans Rights Council to establish a blacklist of companies doing business in the West Bank, Kontorovich argued that the law needed updating.

“The old law already forbids ‘support’ for foreign state boycotts of Israel, and the many regulations enacted pursuant to the law already define ‘support’ to be limited to ‘certain specified actions’ that go well beyond merely ‘speech’ support,” Kontorovich wrote. “The new bill does not change or alter the meaning of ‘support.’ It simply clarifies the list of foreign boycotts covered by the law.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D – Md.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R – Ohio), two of the co-sponsors of the legislation, also rejected the ACLU’s criticism of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. They wrote:

Individuals who “actively avoid purchasing goods and services” because of their own political viewpoint would not be subject to the bill. Similarly, the bill does not regulate civil society organizations, who are critical of Israeli policies or prevent them from speaking in favor of BDS. The legislation does not encourage or compel persons to do business with Israel, nor does it punish individuals or companies from refusing to do business with Israel based on their own political beliefs, for “purely pragmatic reasons,” or for no reason stated at all. Any suggestion that this bill creates potential criminal or civil liability for these actions is false.

Josh Block, President and CEO of The Israel Project, noted in an op-ed published in The Hill at that time, that the ACLU’s opposition to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act comes as a senior member of the organization tweeted that Israeli leaders were exploiting anti-Semitism for political purposes.

The ACLU official, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, also argued that anti-Zionism is not linked to anti-Semitism—a position rejected by top Jewish leaders and diverse public figures including former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan GreenblattPope Francis, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres.

“It is appalling to see one of the longest-standing and most venerated civil rights organizations in our country’s history disseminating misinformation, fomenting anti-Semitism and lauding hatemongers,” Block observed.

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