The AIPAC-sponsored Israel Anti-Boycott Law, introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R.1697 and Senate as S.720, has generated a storm of grassroots pushback. The Intercept and American Civil Liberties Union protested the proposed laws, arguing that Americans supporting boycotts of Israel over its human rights violations could be hit with fines up to $1 million and jail time up to 20 years.
Senator Ben Cardin responded to the ACLU, promising to "fix" the bill so that it would not infringe on freedom of speech or target individual Americans. However, freedom of speech was only one enormous flaw in the legislation, which is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s top 2017 lobbying priority. The other key problem with the Israel Anti-Boycott Law is that it inserts Israel into places it has no right to be – at the very center of laws protecting U.S. national security, trade and that moderate expansive presidential economic powers during emergencies.
Because it is yet another case of Congress trying to write foreign policy – like the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 – the proposed law relies upon a stalking horse, in this case the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as its central authority. The 1977 IEEPA law limits presidential authority to regulate commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to any unusual and extraordinary threat to the US which has a foreign source. The IEEPA itself falls under provisions of the 1976 National Emergencies Act (NEA), which governs how such special presidential powers to declare emergencies are to be invoked and then limiting their duration, through annual renewal requirements.
A 1973 Senate report on "emergencies" still in effect at the time under NEA listed bona fide but fading threats to the United States, such as the 1933 banking crisis, the 1950 emergency of the Korean War, and a 1970 postal workers strike. Israel’s growing international ostracization, which is generating worldwide grassroots calls for boycotts, is not a US emergency. Rather, it is a direct result of Israel’s brutal settler-colonial policies and increasing global awareness of Israel’s activities.
IEEPA has been misused in the recent past. After 9/11, IEEPA was invoked to block assets of accused "terrorist" organizations. This resulted in the formation of a new, secretive, AIPAC-backed office in the US Treasury Department that immediately struck down charities such as Al-Haramain, Benevolence International, Global Relief, and Kind Hearts with little due process. Javed Iqbal was arrested through Treasury Department complaints of violating IEEPA for broadcasting Al-Manar over his cable network in New York City to offer viewers a counterpoint to typical US televised narratives during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Charges against Iqbal could not be defended based on free speech, since he was charged with material support for a global terrorist entity (Hezbollah). Iqbal was sentenced to almost 6 years in jail.
Beyond subverting the First Amendment, which it is clearly intended to do, the Israel Anti-Boycott Law inserts Israel into Chapter 56 – Export Administration section 4607, making Israel the only specifically designated foreign country in a trade law designed to advance US – not foreign – commercial interests. IABA suddenly makes US policing of foreign countries possibly interested in BDS, blocs such as the European Union and the UN, a US national security interest and problem – which they are clearly not – by placing Israel at the center of the US Export Administration Act of 1979. IABL amendments seek to ban organizations like the UN from compiling and distributing lists of companies doing business in territories illegally occupied by Israel. What US national interest is served by banning transparency over illegal Israeli activity? No interest.
Finally, the bill’s "rule of construction" mandates "nothing in this section shall be construed to alter the established policy of the United States or to establish new United States policy concerning final status issues associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, including border delineation, that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties." Translated into English, this means that Israel and its lobby can continue to use the US as a diplomatic lever, but Palestinians cannot employ UN, the EU or other allies in the international community, as a comparable counterweight.
There are many reasons why Israel might want the US to rewrite laws designed to advance America, to protect Israel against economic backlash. Few Americans are served by such meddling. So why do members of congress such as Ben Cardin quietly foist such laws on their constituents (and fellow Americans), to the extent of threatening fines and prison time?
The Israel lobby.
Among Ben Cardin’s top 20 year 2017 donors, 86% of the individual contributors administer, ran, or belong to Israel affinity organizations, including Howard Friedman, a former president of AIPAC. Among his top non-Democratic Party PAC contributors in the top 20, two are pro-Israel stealth PACs, providing 31% of his top-20 2017 PAC revenue. Members of the Israel lobby, not Marylanders, are Cardin’s top constituent on such matters.
Although mainstream media and congressional attention is raptly fixated on Russia as America’s biggest foreign agent threat, the Israel Anti-Boycott Law is yet another harsh warning that until the Foreign Agents Registration Act is properly enforced over Israel’s agents, including those already ordered to register such as AIPAC, Americans can expect escalating attempts by the lobby to curtail their governance, economic freedom and liberty.
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America and America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government.