United States Capitol Building (illustration)
United States Capitol Building (illustration)iStock

American lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill which stipulates that criminal penalties for boycotting Israel would be extended to companies complying with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, including the boycott of communities in Judea and Samaria.

Reps. Pete Roskam (R-IL), and Juan Vargas (D-CA), introduced the bill Monday, JTA reported. The measure is a companion to one introduced in the Senate in September by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Ben Cardin (D-MD), called the “Protecting Israel Against Discrimination Act.”

The House bill amends language in bills passed in the 1970s to combat the Arab League boycott of Israel to encompass the modern Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – and to include efforts that would boycott goods produced in Judea and Samaria.

Whereas the original anti-boycott laws targeted companies cooperating with boycotts that were launched before Israel’s establishment as a means of squeezing its Jews, and then as a means of isolating the new Jewish state, the new bill appears to extend the definition to those who would use boycotts to pressure Israel into giving up territory.

The measure defines the “boycott of, divestment from and sanctions against Israel” that would merit penalties as including those “that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

“Israeli-controlled territories” includes boycotts of Judea and Samaria.

The bill further defines “politically motivated” as meaning “actions to impede or constrain commerce with Israel that are intended to coerce political action or impose policy positions on Israel.”

It could face First Amendment challenges for seeking to link criminal penalties attached to export violations to “politically motivated” actions that include aims as minimal as getting Israel to rejoin peace talks with the Palestinians.

The legislation was sparked in part by the creation of a database by the United Nations Human Rights Council of companies that do business with Israeli “settlements”. It extends existing penalties for boycotting Israel to international organizations like the council.

The bill also requires the Export-Import Bank, a government agency that seeks to facilitate American trade overseas, to consider whether a company applying for a loan adheres to the BDS movement.

The bill is the latest American legislation to target the anti-Israel BDS movement. Several U.S. states have already passed laws against BDS.

In late September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that prevents companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign country, including Israel, from doing business with the state.

In August, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie adopted an anti-BDS billprohibiting pension fund investment in entities that call for a boycott of Israel, and mandates a special report which will be presented to the State’s legislators to guarantee that the bill is being implemented.

In June, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning state companies from collaborating with entities that promote BDS.

Other states to have passed similar laws are Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.