Written by Jewish Voice for Peace - Portland Chapter Jewish Voice for Peace - Portland Chapter
Published: 13 March 2016 13 March 2016
(Note: Once you have read this letter, please click here if you would like your name/organization to be added in support of this letter to be delivered to Senator Wyden. Also, please spread this letter widely to all the Oregonians you know!)
March 8, 2016
Re: “The Combating BDS Act of 2016” (S. 2531)
Dear Senator Wyden:
We, the undersigned, write to express our concern with the recently introduced legislation “The Combating BDS Act of 2016” (S. 2531). We are a statewide coalition of faith and social justice groups, as well as individuals who stand for civil liberties and human rights for all. We are Oregonians of many traditions—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, secular and others. This bill seeks to authorize state and local governments to divest assets from and prohibit investment in any entity that “engages in commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.” In so doing, the bill encourages states and local governments to take action that is unconstitutional by penalizing entities for engaging in First Amendment-protected political speech. As someone who has championed U.S. Constitutionally protected civil liberties, we are extremely disappointed with your support of this legislation that seeks to limit First Amendment rights.
In a landmark 1982 decision, NAACP v. Clairborne Hardware, the US Supreme Court ruled that boycotts and related activities to bring about political, social and economic change are political speech, occupying “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.” By seeking to “authorize” state and local governments to penalize entities exercising their protected political speech with which the government does not agree, Congress would be encouraging governments to engage in “viewpoint discrimination,” an impermissible violation of the First Amendment – the protected right to free speech – according to the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, the text of the legislation defines boycott of Israel as “any activity that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.” This language, along with similar legislation introduced over the last year, is part of a quiet campaign to legitimize and extend U.S. protection to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise by blurring the legal distinction between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. This would reverse decades of U.S. policy that regards the settlements as illegitimate and illegal.
Please click here if you would like your name/organization to be added as a supporter of this letter to be delivered to Senator Wyden.
Additionally, recent polls reflect that Americans are beginning to view U.S. foreign policy toward Israel with a more critical eye than ever before. A Brookings Institute poll released in December 2015 found that 49% of Democrats (and over ⅓ of all Americans) support imposing economic sanctions or more serious action against Israel over settlement construction. A 2014 poll by GBA Strategies revealed that 49% of Jewish Americans age 18-29 support boycotting Israeli products that come from the West Bank in order to press for change in Israeli policy. At a time when public opinion is shifting so rapidly, such legislation is deeply out of touch with the current political reality.
Committed to international law, human rights and the First Amendment, we express our deep disappointment in your co-sponsorship of S. 2531.
To sign in support of this letter, please go to this link. You may sign as an individual or, if authorized to do so, on behalf of your group or organization. Please spread this letter widely (to Oregonians) to sign on.