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US bipartisan legislation to expand on anti-BDS efforts

The new legislation will block individuals and companies from participating in boycotts by international governmental organisations
Representative Josh Gottheimer during a press conference at US Capitol Building in Washington DC, on 27 January 2023 (AFP)

New legislation is aiming to prevent US companies and individuals from participating in boycotts of countries “friendly to the US” organised by international governmental organisations. 

The legislation, introduced by Republican representative Mike Lawler and Democratic representative Josh Gottheimer, looks to expand on previous  federal law which only bars companies and individuals from participating in boycotts organised by foreign countries, Jewish Insider reported. 

The new legislation will require companies and individuals to report to the US government when asked to comply with boycotts. 

The bill's text does not specifically identify Israel, but Lawler and Gottheimer said in statements that the change comes in response to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which targets Israel.

The BDS movement is a non-violent initiative that seeks to challenge Israel's occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights through economic, cultural, and academic boycotts, similar to the successful boycott campaigns of apartheid South Africa.

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“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at preventing international governmental organizations from discriminating against our allies,” Lawler said. 

“This has been spurred on by bad actors that have sought to embargo Israel using BDS, which is an absurd and antisemitic policy.”

Lawler added that the bipartisan legislation is essential to counter “anti-Israel bias in international organisations like the biased United Nations, which has a deep history of singling out the Jewish state”.

It would also apply to blocs like the Arab League or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Federal anti-BDS legislation attempts

Last year, Gottheimer introduced legislation as an amendment to the country's annual defence budget, a piece of legislation titled the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The amendment would have required a defence department report on whether any contractor "participates in or supports any organized effort or organization that, based on a belief that Israel is oppressing Palestinians, promotes a boycott of, removal of investments from or economic sanctions against Israel or any person or entity in Israel".

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The move, however, was ultimately blocked from consideration on the House floor by a vote in the House Rules Committee that toed partisan lines.

While this new legislation is on the federal level, there are over 30 states that have enacted some form of anti-BDS legislation. 

In some of these states, the law was struck down by courts as unconstitutional. But in states like Texas, Kansas, and Arizona, the law was amended to narrow the requirement so it applied only to larger contracts.

In March 2022, Congressman Lee Zeldin introduced a bill aimed at fighting the BDS movement. The bill would effectively bar US citizens and companies from providing information to foreign countries and international organisations that "have the effect of furthering" the boycott of Israel.

The legislation also prohibits the US from participating in boycotts or requests for boycotts of "a country which is friendly to the United States".

In July 2022, US Senator Tom Cotton outlined a plan to introduce national legislation targeting the BDS movement. The legislation he was planning to introduce would prevent the US military from contracting with any companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.

"We can fight the antisemitic BDS movement by passing a bill I plan to introduce this year to deny military contracts to any company that boycotts Israel," he said.

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