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ACLU warns Congress anew against criminalising boycotts of Israel

December 11, 2018 at 2:35 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a new warning about congressional efforts to pass legislation criminalising politically motivated boycotts of Israel, amid reports that the bill may be slipped into “the end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill”.

The ACLU reaffirmed that it “has long opposed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act through its multiple iterations because the bill would make it a crime to participate in political boycotts protected by the First Amendment”.

The bill, eagerly promoted by a number of pro-Israel groups in the US, constitutes “a full-scale attack on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms”, the ACLU said.

According to the ACLU, in an attempt “to avoid public scrutiny”, the bill’s sponsors hope to include “the bill’s unconstitutional criminal penalties in must-pass legislation scheduled for a vote just days before Congress’ holiday recess — likely because it will be harder to pass in the new Congress”.

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Crucially, the ACLU said that an updated version of the bill seen by the organisation, being considered for inclusion in the spending bill, “does nothing to cure its free speech problems”.

“Furthermore,” the ACLU added, “knowingly violating the bill could result in criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million.”

“Were this legislation to pass, federal officials would have a new weapon at their disposal to chill and suppress speech that they found objectionable or politically unpopular,” the group concluded.

“Whatever their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” the ACLU stated, “members of Congress should oppose any effort to include this unconstitutional law within the omnibus spending bill. Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.”