Legislative Advocacy Challenging Anti-BDS Bills

CCR, Palestine Legal, and Other Rights Groups Respond to Bills Aiming to Suppress Palestinian Rights Advocacy

As part of a continuing effort to challenge bills that threaten core First Amendment-protected activity in support of Palestinian rights, CCR and other rights organizations have engaged in advocacy with local and federal lawmakers to oppose proposed legislation. These bills are part of a growing trend of introducing legislation intended to silence Palestinian rights advocacy in numerous states and the U.S. Congress. For more information about other efforts to suppress First Amendment-protected activities in support of Palestinian rights, including other legislative efforts to restrict Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign efforts, see CCR and Palestine Legal’s report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the U.S.

 

U.S. Congress

CCR and allies have opposed three major legislative initiatives on the federal level that would have severely chilled and stifled Palestinian rights advocacy.

In 2014, CCR, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-USA sent Congress members a letter opposing H.R. 4009, a bill that would have that would have denied federal funding to colleges and universities that participate in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars. The bill was a response to the American Studies Association's 2013 resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The bill, which CCR argued was a clear violation of the First Amendment, did not pass.

On December 5, 2016, CCR, Palestine Legal, the National Lawyers Guild, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and American Muslims for Palestine sent a memorandum to U.S. Congress members opposing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. The bill, which passed the Senate on December 1 by unanimous consent and without debate, would have required the Department of Education to employ a discredited, overbroad, and vague definition of antisemitism that conflates it with criticism of Israeli government policy by including any speech deemed to “demonize,” apply “double standards” to, or “delegitimize” Israel. While purporting to address antisemitic incidents on campuses, the bill instead targeted Palestine advocacy while providing no new protections for Jewish students. The so-called "State Department definition" had been previously considered and rejected by the University of California, and the definition's own author opposed the bill. The bill died in the U.S. House on December 12, 2016, but could return in the next legislative session.

CCR and nine other organizations sent a letter to Congress members on August 9, 2017, expressing opposition to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, federal legislation that would amend existing law to ban joining boycotts called for by international governmental organizations and impose criminal penalties and severe fines. On August 17, 2017, the letter was updated to include sixteen signatories and 60 endorsing organizations, and by August 31, 2017, 100 groups had endorsed.

 

California

On February 12, 2016, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and Palestine Legal sent a memorandum to lawmakers regarding anti-boycott bills pending in the California state assembly. The bills would have prevented the state from investing in entities that comply with boycotts of Israel (AB 1551) and from contracting with entities that engage in "discriminatory" boycotts (AB 1552). Following opposition to the bills, in March 2016, a previously unrelated bill, AB 2844, was amended to include unconstitutional restrictions on political speech in line with the two earlier bills. Due to its unconstitutional provisions, AB 2844 underwent a series of revisions in the legislature as concerns were expressed by lawyers, activists, journalists, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee, the California Department of Finance, and the California Senate Appropriations Committee. CCR and Palestine Legal sent legislators a copy of their joint report in April 2016 to demonstrate how this legislation fits into a pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S. After AB 2844 passed the California legislature, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the NLG sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown urging him to veto the bill on September 23, 2016. Unfortunately, Governor Brown signed the bill into law shortly after. CCR and Palestine Legal released an FAQ on its implications.

 

Florida

In 2014, CCR and Jewish Voice for Peace sent a letter to Florida lawmakers opposing Senate Resolution 894, which opposed academic boycotts of Israeli universities and institutions of higher learning in response to the American Studies Association's 2013 resolution. In 2015, CCR, Palestine Legal, the South Florida Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida sent a letter to Florida senators opposing S.B. 86, a bill that would punish companies that boycott Israel. The four groups wrote to Governor Scott in October 2016 to urge him to veto the bill and its companion bill H.B. 527, which had recently passed the Florida House of Representatives.  The bill was unfortunately signed into law.

 

Georgia

On April 18, 2016, CCR and Palestine Legal sent a memorandum to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal opposing S.B. 327, an anti-boycott bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with individuals and companies that boycott Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories.” The bill passed the Georgia Senate in February and the Georgia House in March, proceeding to the governor on March 31, 2016 to be signed into law or vetoed. Governor Deal signed the bill into law on April 26, 2016.

 

Illinois

On March 4, 2014, CCR sent Illinois State Senators on the Higher Education Committee a letter urging them to oppose pending legislation that would withhold state funding to colleges and universities that fund membership and activities in organizations supporting boycotts of certain countries, including Israel. According to the legislation’s sponsor, Senate Bill 3017 was drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s 2013 resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. CCR sent Illinois Judiciary Committee members a letter opposing the legislation on March 18, 2014 and another letter opposing a similar state resolution on April 1, 2014. The resolution was defeated on April 1, 2014.

In 2015, Illinois became the first state to enact anti-BDS legislation. SB 1761 mandates the creation of a blacklist of foreign companies that boycott Israel and divestment of the state’s pension fund from those companies.

 

Maryland

On February 22, 2017, CCR, Palestine Legal, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, the Maryland National Lawyers Guild, and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition sent a memorandum to Maryland lawmakers opposing HB 949 and SB 739, anti-boycott bills that would require Maryland to create a blacklist of "persons" - including individuals and community organizations - that engage in BDS and prohibit the state from investing in those "persons."

In previous efforts, CCR, the Maryland and D.C. chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Defending Dissent Foundation sent Maryland Senators and Delegates a letter on March 3, 2014 urging them to oppose then-pending legislation that would have reduced state funding to colleges and universities that fund membership and activities in organizations supporting boycotts of certain countries, including Israel.  According to the legislation’s supporters, Senate Bill 647 and House Bill 998 were drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s 2013 resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. CCR and the other groups sent Maryland legislators a letter opposing a similar budget amendment on April 2, 2014.

 

Massachusetts

On July 11, 2017, Defending Rights & Dissent, CCR, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and Palestine Legal sent a memorandum to Massachusetts legislators opposing S.1689 and H.1685, anti-boycott bills that would require state contractors to certify that they are in compliance with state anti-discrimination laws and will not cease to do business with others based on certain protected categories. While the bill, which does not offer any new civil rights protections, does not mention BDS, there is concern that it may be inappropriately applied to BDS campaigns, as several of the bill's supporters have expressed an intention to target BDS.

 

New Jersey

On June 24, 2016, CCR and Palestine Legal sent a memorandum to New Jersey Assembly and Senate members opposing A925 and S1923, anti-boycott bills that would create a blacklist of companies that abide by BDS campaigns for Palestinian rights and prohibit the state from investing its pension or annuity funds in them. CCR and Palestine Legal previously sent legislators a copy of their joint report in April 2016 to demonstrate how this legislation fits into a pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S.

 

New York

Following the stalling of legislative efforts to suppress Palestinian rights advocacy in New York state, New York Governor Cuomo signed an executive order on June 5, 2016 that mandated the creation of a blacklist of entities engaging in or promoting BDS against Israel and required state agencies to divest public funds from those on the blacklist.  CCR, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Palestine Legal submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to New York State seeking information about the decision-making process behind the executive order on June 21, 2016. New York's blacklist of companies was released on December 2, 2016.

In January and February 2014, CCR and the National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter sent letters to Assembly members opposing the original and amended versions of an anti-boycott bill that had passed the Senate. The bill, which would have reduced state funding to colleges and universities that fund membership and activities in organizations supporting boycotts of a list of countries, including Israel, was drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s 2013 resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The bill ultimately did not pass.

On January 26, 2016, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) sent a memorandum to New York lawmakers regarding anti-boycott bills that were pending in the state legislature. On April 12, 2016, the three groups distributed an updated memorandum to legislators that addressed recent amendments to A8220.  CCR and Palestine Legal sent legislators a copy of their joint report in April 2016 to demonstrate how this legislation fits into a pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S. On May 3, 2016, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the NLG then joined a coalition of over 100 groups to send a letter opposing the bills to all members of the New York Legislature. The two bills would have mandated the creation of a blacklist of individuals and/or entities that support boycotts of Israel (S6086/A8220A) or “allied” nations (S6378A/A9036), prohibited those on the blacklist from doing business with the state of New York, and required state pension funds to divest from any companies on the blacklist. S6378A passed the Senate in January 2016. Though the bills did not pass the full legislature, some elements were implemented in Cuomo's June 2016 executive order.

On March 8, 2017, two new versions of these bills, along with a third bill that was an updated version of the 2014 bill that similarly did not pass the legislature, were fast-tracked out of committee and passed without debate in the Senate. The bills did not pass the Assembly.

On September 14, 2016, the New York City Council passed Resolution No. 1058-A, which expressed condemnation of the BDS campaign. Resolutions condemning BDS and ordinances preventing supporters of BDS from contracting with their towns have also passed in other New York localities.

 

Ohio

On April 18, 2016, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the NLG of Ohio sent a memorandum to Ohio lawmakers opposing H.B. 476, an anti-boycott bill pending in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel or disinvest from Israel as an “expression of protest against the policies of the government of Israel.” CCR and Palestine Legal sent legislators a copy of their joint report in April 2016 to demonstrate how this legislation fits into a pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S. CCR joined members of the Freedom to Boycott - Ohio coalition in sending another memorandum opposing the bill on May 24, 2016. The bill was signed into law by Governor Kasich on December 19, 2016.

 

Pennsylvania

On October 24, 2016, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the National Lawyers Guild sent a memorandum to Pennsylvania Senate members opposing HB 2107, a bill that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies unless they certify that they are not engaged in boycotts based on protected classes or on "national affiliation," which is vague and not a protected class. The financial penalty for the state's determination that a certification is false is either $250,000 or twice the amount of the contract, whichever is greater. Though the bill does not explicitly mention BDS, lawmakers' intention to suppress BDS campaign efforts through the bill is clear from its "declaration of purpose" and public framing.  CCR and Palestine Legal previously sent legislators a copy of their joint report in April 2016 to demonstrate how this legislation fits into a pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill into law on November 4, 2016.

On June 16, 2015, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to state legislators opposing HB 1018, which would have prohibited state funding to institutions of higher education that engage in boycotts of or divest from Israel.

 

South Carolina

On March 2, 2017, CCR, Palestine Legal, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, the Carolina Peace Resource Center, Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild – Palestine Subcommittee, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network sent a memorandum to South Carolina lawmakers opposing H.3643, a bill that proposes to amend South Carolina's education laws to classify political speech critical of Israel as antisemitism when investigating discrimination on college campuses.  The bill would require schools to incorporate a widely discredited, overly broad definition of antisemitism that includes virtually all criticism of Israeli government policies while not providing any further protections for Jewish students.

 

Texas

On February 21, 2017, CCR, Palestine Legal, CAIR-Texas, National Lawyers Guild – Palestine Subcommittee, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation sent a memorandum to Texas lawmakers opposing HB 89 and SB 134, anti-boycott bills that would require Texas to create a blacklist of companies that support BDS campaigns and prohibit the state from investing in or contracting with those entities.

 

Virginia

On January 27, 2017, CCR, Palestine Legal, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation sent a memorandum to Virginia lawmakers opposing HB 2261, a bill that was pending in the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill proposed to amend Virginia's Human Rights Act, which already prohibits religious discrimination, to incorporate a widely discredited, overly broad definition of antisemitism that includes virtually all criticism of Israeli government policies. If enacted, the act would have classified political speech supportive of Palestinian human rights as unlawful discrimination in the workplace, in public accommodations, and in educational institutions in Virginia. The bill died in committee on February 8, 2017, but could return in the next legislative session.

Last modified 

October 16, 2017