Jewish Voice for Peace Action calls on Senators to oppose S. 2119 the Combating BDS Act of 2021. This unconstitutional bill encourages states to pass laws punishing individuals and businesses for exercising their First Amendment-protected right to advocate for Palestinian human rights and justice. 

Attacks our right to boycott

The U.S. has a rich history of boycotts advancing social justice, from the Montgomery bus boycott, to the farm workers’ grape boycott, to the movement to oppose South African apartheid. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. This means that boycotts in support of Palestinian human rights are a form of constitutionally protected speech and cannot be singled out for punishment just because members of Congress may not agree with them.

S. 2119 is a reintroduction of the Combating BDS Act of 2019, which was strongly opposed by groups like the ACLU, which warned the bill “would encourage states to adopt unconstitutional measures intended to suppress protected political expression when those opinions are disfavored by the government.”

Encourages states to pass unconstitutional laws

Over 200 anti-boycott bills have been introduced at state and federal levels. The majority were defeated before becoming law, but more than 30 states have these unconstitutional laws on the books. S. 2119 encourages and incentivizes states to keep passing these unconstitutional laws. 

To date, not a single anti-boycott law challenged in court has been upheld on its constitutional merits. In 2021, a federal court found Georgia’s anti-BDS law to be unconstitutional. The plaintiff was not allowed to speak at a university after refusing to sign a statement that she would not boycott Israel. The ruling judge found this “no different that [sic] requiring a person to espouse certain political beliefs or to engage in certain political associationsthe Supreme Court has found similar requirements to be unconstitutional on their face.” 

In 2018, a federal court sided with the ACLU’s plaintiff and blocked an Arizona anti-BDS law that required state contractors to certify they would not boycott Israel because the law violated state contractors’ free speech rights. The ruling judge wrote: “The type of collective action targeted by the [law] specifically implicates the rights of assembly and association that Americans and Arizonans use ‘to bring about political, social, and economic change.’” Courts have blocked anti-boycott laws in Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas over similar concerns.

Seeks to silence the movement for Palestinian rights

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement uses economic pressure to push the Israeli government to uphold international law. It was born in response to the State of Israel’s well-documented and systemic violations of Palestinian rights over decades. 

Without pressure, the Israeli government has no incentive to respect Palestinians’ basic human rights. S. 2119 tramples on the First Amendment and would send the Israeli government a message that it can continue egregious violations of Palestinian rights with total impunity.