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No Guarantee For Congress

December 20, 2018

As Congress staggers to the end of yet another unproductive session, it can’t even guarantee that it will get out of town for the holidays without at least a partial government shutdown. But it can guarantee that harmful back-door legislation will get a shot at adoption during the lame-duck session, even though the proposal cannot survive a debate and vote on its merits. Lawmakers from both houses and of both parties want to attach the Israel Anti-Boycott Act to a spending and revenue package that must pass to avert a shutdown. The bill would make it illegal for any American company to join any boycott of Israel for any reason. After similar bills failed in 2017 and earlier this year, advocates stripped out provisions that authorized prison time for any businessperson participating in such a boycott. The current version includes only financial penalties. The bill’s sponsors claim it will protect companies from international pressure to boycott Israel by making it illegal under American law to do so. But, if that is the objective, why the financial penalties? Making it illegal to take a political stance — regardless of whether it complies with government policy — violates the First Amendment, which instructs Congress to “make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.” Members of Congress should forget about this back-door effort to suppress speech, and let individuals and companies assess the risks inherent in any political statement, and decide for themselves whether to act.

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