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ACLU says revised anti-BDS bill remains unconstitutional, in blow to pro-Israel groups

March 7, 2018 at 10:28 am

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) rally in Washington, US [Elvert Barnes/Flickr]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticised a revised version of draft legislation intended to target the growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, saying that the latest version of the bill remains unconstitutional.

The ACLU had voiced objections to the original bill in July 2017 on First Amendment grounds, and in response to such criticisms, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a revised version over the weekend.

But in a 6 March press release, the ACLU revealed that it had written to senators informing them of the veteran civil liberties group’s opposition to the revised bill, in what is a blow to pro-Israel groups who are hoping that the bill will become law (the letter can be viewed here).

“This bill is unconstitutional because it seeks to impose the government’s political views on Americans who choose to express themselves through boycotts,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

Read: California Democrats reject anti-BDS legislation

“The proposed changes are improvements, but the revised bill continues to penalize participants in political boycotts in violation of the First Amendment”, he added. “If it is enacted in this form and takes effect, we will strongly consider fighting it in court”.

ACLU noted that “the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and the ACLU is currently fighting two lawsuits challenging Kansas and Arizona laws requiring state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel”.

In the case of Kansas, “a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in January blocking enforcement of the law while the case proceeds”.

The ACLU press release clarifies that the organisation “does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries”, but “has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to anti-boycott bills in multiple states as infringements on free speech”.