18:32 GMT +319 September 2018
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    File photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington

    US Law Targeting Entities That Boycott Israel Advances Toward Full Vote

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    The US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Thursday. The legislation, should it pass the full House and Senate and gain US President Donald Trump’s approval, would allow his administration to penalize institutions and companies that support a boycott of Israeli companies.

    Because the bill passed the Foreign Affairs Committee, it will advance to the floor of the House for a vote. The bill was birthed in 2017, but languished in the committee amid fierce backlash from civil liberties groups such as the ACLU, which criticized it on the grounds that it violates Americans' First Amendment right to free speech.

    The new version of the bill is no less troubling; some say it is even worse than the original, from a civil rights point of view. That's because the revised bill gives the Trump administration the power to decide who is involved in boycott activity and how to penalize them.

    "Congress will be essentially abrogating its legislative duties and turning the keys over to the Trump administration. This would be a reckless threat to the rule of law, especially given the Trump administration's record on executive actions such as the Muslim ban and immigrant family separation," said the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, according to the Times of Israel on Friday.

    "Once again, Congress will be trying to push anti-boycott laws past the limit of the First Amendment."

    The bill takes aim at companies and institutions which "comply with, further, or support" nonbinding resolutions by the United Nations and the European Union calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions. Simply "furnishing information" about these resolutions could be punished, according to the wording of the bill.

    The House bill is a part of a wider push to crack down on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global appeal to pressure Israel into abiding by international law when it comes to Palestine through boycotts of and divestment from Israeli institutions involved in violations of Palestinian rights and sanctions on the Israeli government. Already, 24 states have enacted laws targeting BDS activity, according to the ACLU.

    It doesn't specify the punishment for violators of those terms, but requires penalties to be "consistent with the enforcement practices" of the 1979 Export Administration Act, which can see maximum civil and criminal disciplines to the tune of $1 million in fines and 20 years behind bars.

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    First Amendment, free speech, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement
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