Anti-Defamation League Supports Controversial anti-BDS Bill: Act 'Won't Limit Free Speech'

Some claim the bill, which aims to fight BDS efforts, could also undermine First Amendment rights

FILE PHOTO: Member of Jewish Representative Council stage a protest against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) in front of the Sir Herbert Baker building in Cape Town, South Africa on February 13, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Member of Jewish Representative Council stage a protest against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) in front of the Sir Herbert Baker building in Cape Town, South Africa on Fe Ashraf Hendricks / Anadolu Agenc

WASHINGTON - The Anti-Defamation League expressed its support on Tuesday for the "Israel Anti-Boycott Act," a piece of legislation that is supposed to combat the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, but has come under criticism from civil rights group that warn it could endanger free speech in the United States. The veteran Jewish organization said it supports the legislation and has called on members of Congress to do the same. 

The ADL explained in a statement that the legislation "is not intended to limit the First Amendment rights of U.S. individuals and companies who want to criticize Israel or penalize those who want to refuse to do business with Israel based on their own personal convictions."

The statement is a direct response to the main line of criticism being voiced against the legislation by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has warned that the legislation's current language could impose sever penalties on U.S. citizens for supporting boycotts of Israel and the settlements.

According to the ADL, "this narrowly-tailored legislation is designed simply to prevent boycott actions from being taken against Israel in compliance with major international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union."

This explanation is similar to one that appeared last month in a letter published by the bill's cosponsors, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Rob Portman, in reply to the ACLU. 

One of the main reasons the ACLU has come out strongly against the bill is that violating it could lead to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum one of $1 million, or a lengthy period in jail. The ACLU pointed to First Amendment protections in their criticism, noting that the bill "cannot be fairly characterized as an anti-discrimination bill."

One senator – Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York - withdrew her cosponsorship earlier this week, stating that she supports the bill's main objective of fighting BDS but would only support the bill if its language was changed to avoid legal ambiguity. Gillibrand's move made her the most senior Democratic politician to demand the AIPAC supported bill be changed.