WASHINGTON – Another Democratic member of Congress announced over the weekend that he would withdraw his support from the controversial "Israel Anti-Boycott Act" over concerns that it could harm free speech by potentially imposing penalties on American citizens for supporting boycotts of Israel and the settlements in the West Bank.
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Speaking at a town hall meeting, Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, said that he intends to withdraw his support because the bill is "more complicated" than how it was originally presented to him.
"I do not support a boycott and divestment campaign against Israel," he clarified, stating that the change in his position toward the legislation is a result of its "very complicated" language, which comes "very close" to punishing American citizens for choosing to boycott Israel.
Smith, who is currently listed as a co-sponsor of the bill, also mentioned his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that if Israel does not allow the creation of a Palestinian state, it would not be able to survive as a Jewish state. He said that he has a lot of criticism toward Israeli politicians "for all the bad things that they do," but that he doesn't believe the "boycott approach" is helpful in advancing peace. "It's the same as saying all the Palestinians are terrorists," he explained.
The proposed legislation, which is supported by AIPAC, includes a reference to an existing law from 1977, which makes it illegal for American citizens and businesses to join the "Arab boycott of Israel" and includes heavy punishments for that. Rep. Smith said that the new bill's supporters claim it merely expands the 1977 law to include boycotts initiated by the UN, and would not include private citizens engaging in boycotts. The problem, he said, is "how do you really tell the difference?"
Smith's criticism of the bill is somewhat similar to that of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York who also withdrew her support from the bill earlier this month. Sen. Gillibrand said that while she doesn't fully agree with those who say the bill would impose penalties on citizens for supporting boycotts ("I have a different reading of the bill," she explained), the language of the bill is too ambiguous and should be changed, in order to make it clear that citizens would not be punished for expressing support for boycotts.