Anti-BDS Legislation

[The following introductory text is adapted from FMEP website pages; see those in the Resources list farther below.]

Beginning in 2014, opponents of the BDS movement began promoting legislation in various U.S. states denouncing it and seeking to penalize support for it.

In 2015, these efforts expanded to the U.S. Congress to use concerns about BDS campaigns in order to pass legislation that, in addition to penalizing BDS action, would give unprecedented legitimacy and recognition to Israeli settlements by making it U.S. policy to treat the settlements as part of Israel.

In 2016, a number of states adopted legislation for those to states boycott, divest from, and sanction entities that engage in BDS actions, or that in any concrete way differentiate between Israel and the settlements. In addition to conflating settlements and Israel, much of this legislation is patently unconstitutional. These efforts in state legislatures have continued through 2017.

In 2017, there has been widespread concern about and activism in opposition to Congressional legislation that would penalize support for BDS campaigns.

See a fuller overview of concerns regarding this legislation in an ACLU article below.


This page focuses primarily on federal anti-bds legislation.
For legislation happening in over 2 dozen US states, see this page at Palestine Legal.

2017 Action Alerts

Church Organizations’ Statements and Resources

CMEP Webinar – Israel Anti-Boycott Act Explained

Short Videos explaining the legislation

Article from ACLU staff attorney, July 2017: covers concerns surrounding current Congressional anti-BDS legislation; includes valuable footnotes for background information and underlying issues.

More Resources: Collections of news, expert analysis, and commentary regarding this legislation. Includes links to several videos.
** Resources from Palestine Legal
** Resources from US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
** FMEP Resources

First Articles Raising Awareness
More News & Commentary
Senators’ Positions /  Results of Opposition

Church Organizations’ and Partners’ 2017 Alerts

• American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – Action Alert – Tell Congress/ Stop legislation to criminalize boycotts See it, take action

• Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) – Action Alert – Support Free Speech. Stop the Israel Anti-Boycott Act! See it, take action

• Presbyterian Church USA Office of Public Witness – Action Alert – Say no to limits on free speech See it, take action

• Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) – Statement – Christian Leaders Denounce the Recent Wave of Anti-BDS Legislation (2016)  Read and sign it

• Peace Not Walls, Evangelical Luthern Church in American (ELCA) – Action Alert – Tell Congress/ Freedom of speech must remain guaranteed! See it, take action

• United Church of Christ – Action Alert – Say no to Anti-BDS legislation See it, take action

United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR) – Action Alert – Protect our right to boycott – See it, take action

• US Campaign for Palestinian Rights – Action Alert – Say NO to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act See it, take action

Church Organizations’ Statements and Resources

(in chronological order of publication)

UMKR Briefing Paper – UMKR Opposes Anti-BDS Legislation (Jan 2016)
Read and download

Faith Forum on Middle East Policy – Employing Economic Measures as Nonviolent Tools for Justice In the Israeli-Palestinian Context (August 2016) Signatories on this statement include: AFSC, Disciples of Christ, Maryknoll-Office of Global Concerns, Pax Christi, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ and GBCS of the United Methodist Church.
Read and download

UCC – Ecumenical effort opposing anti-BDS legislation (August 2016)
Read it

FOSNA – Christian Leaders Denounce the Recent Wave of Anti-BDS Legislation (2016)
Read it and sign it

• United Methodist Church – Resolution adopted by seven regional bodies: Protecting the Right to Peacefully Address Injustice through Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Read and download it
See the related UMKR  press release: United Methodists in U.S. Defend the Right to Boycott and Divest


Webinar – CMEP – Israel Anti-Boycott Act Explained

Tuesday, September 19 at 12pm EDT
Since it’s introduction in March, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act has received considerable criticism. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) the Israel Anti-Boycott Act “would criminalize constitutionally protected boycotts and certain speech targeting Israel.”

Join CMEP for a LIVE Webinar! Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, in conversation with CMEP’s Executive Director Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon will provide analysis of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the concerns it raises, and opportunities for you to oppose the legislation.

RSVP: Please register to receive a link to the live webinar

Lara Friedman, President of Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP):
Lara Friedman formerly served as the Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now. As a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Lara Friedman served in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis, and Beirut (and briefly in Khartoum). Widely recognized as an authority on U.S. policy in the Middle East, Congress and the Middle East, Israeli settlements, and Jerusalem, Lara meets frequently with Members of Congress and congressional staff, Administration officials, foreign diplomats, and other members of the foreign policy community. She is a trusted resource for journalists and policymakers, and regularly publishes opinion and analysis pieces in the U.S. and Israeli press, including at the Times of Israel, Huffington Post, Newsweek/the Daily Beast, The Forward, Haaretz, and
LobeLog. She also works closely with the Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann and has participated in Track II peace efforts, including the Jerusalem Old City Initiative.



AFSC – What is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act? (1.5 min)


AMP – S720, Israel Anti-Boycott Act (1.5 min)


The First Amendment Protects the Right to Boycott Israel [1]

by Brian Hauss, ACLU Staff Attorney, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
July 20, 2017

Earlier this week, the ACLU sent a letter [2] to members of Congress opposing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act [3]. The bill would amend existing law to prohibit people in the United States from supporting boycotts targeting Israel — making it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

The bill is aimed at advocates of boycotts targeting Israel, most notably the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Specifically, the bill sponsors intend the act as a response to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 2016 resolution [4] calling on companies to respect human rights [5], including in occupied Palestinian territories.

No matter what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing is clear: The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts.

In fact, the right to boycott is one of the brightest stars in our constitutional firmament. The American Revolution was founded [6] on boycotts against British goods to protest excessive taxes. John Jay led [7] a boycott against New York merchants who engaged in the slave trade. And the Montgomery bus boycott [8] of 1955–1956 was a major turning point in the struggle for civil rights in the Jim Crow South. In the 1970s and 1980s, colleges and universities led a widespread campaign [9] to boycott and divest from South Africa, in protest of apartheid. In 2015, football players at the University of Missouri went on strike [10] until the school addressed acute racial tensions on campus. And North Carolina’s law prohibiting transgender people from accessing restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identities sparked [11] massive boycotts by businesses and individuals.

Above and below: Outdoor mural and plaque in Port Gibson, Mississippi commemorate historic 1966 boycott and 1982 Supreme Court decision.

Boycotts are a form of collective action that allows ordinary people to make their voices heard. For precisely this reason, the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to boycott. The court’s landmark decision in NAACP v Claiborne Hardware Co. [12] affirmed the constitutional right of NAACP activists to hold a mass economic boycott of white-owned businesses in Port Gibson, Mississippi, to protest the community’s persistent racial inequality and segregation. In ringing language, the court held that the boycotters’ exercise of their rights to “speech, assembly, and petition . . . to change a social order that had consistently treated them as second-class citizens” rested “on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”

[Click this photo to enlarge it.]

This is a proud constitutional legacy. Today, though, the right to boycott is under assault. Over the past several years, federal, state, and local legislators have introduced wave after wave [13] of legislation seeking to stamp out boycotts and divestment campaigns aimed at Israel. One such law, passed earlier this year by Nassau County in New York, prohibits the county from doing business with people who support the BDS movement. As a result, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame could be banned [14] from playing at the Nassau Coliseum in New York. Similar laws have been passed in Arizona [15] and Kansas [16].

None of them comport with the First Amendment.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act introduced in Congress goes a step further, threatening severe civil and criminal punishment against individuals who refrain from doing business with Israel because of their political opposition to its government’s actions. The bill amends two existing laws, the Export Administration Act of 1979 [17] and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 [18], which prohibit certain boycotts sponsored by foreign governments.

The bill would expand the application of those laws in a number of ways. It would expand the laws to prohibit boycotts called for by international organizations, like the United Nations and the European Union; it would threaten sanctions against people who boycott businesses operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; and it would prohibit even requests for information about companies’ business relationships with Israel and Israeli companies. This expansive language would likely chill a wide range of political activity in the United States directed at the Israeli government — activity that is constitutionally protected, regardless whether members of Congress agree with it.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is one of several Senators who have withdrawn support for S.720 after hearing of ACLU concerns.

A number of the bill’s sponsors were apparently surprised [19] by the ACLU’s free speech concerns with the bill. Several of them have now expressed their intention to review the legislation with the ACLU’s civil rights and civil liberties concerns in mind. We hope they do the right thing by backing away from any bill that violates our First Amendment rights.

Source URL:




Palestine Legal

An organization leading much of the work to oppose anti-BDS legislation.
Information on legislation in states:
Information on federal legislation:
Their resource: 10 Things to Know about Anti-BDS Legislation


US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

Web page for resources: Oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act

A series of four Infographics that illustrate how this legislation would affect U.S. citizens

Talking Points: Israel Anti-Boycott Act Is Unconstitutional Infringement on
Free Speech, Attempt to Legitimize Israeli Settlements  Read and download

Five Ways the Israel Anti-Boycott Act Could Criminalize Americans’ First Amendment-Protected Right to Boycott Read and download

Action Alert to Contact Congress – go there, take action
– and their previous alerts in 2017


Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)

The Stealth Campaign to Support Settlements – In Congress

The Stealth Campaign to Support Settlements – in States:

Constitutionality Issues & BDS Legislation: Expert Views:


First Articles Raising Awareness

Josh Ruebner, The Electronic Intifada – New US bill would punish settlement boycotters
Read it

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept – U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel
Read it


ACLU Steps In

ACLU letter to all Senators opposing S720, Israel Anti-Boycott Act, July 2017
Read and download this letter

The Forward – ACLU Urges Senators To Oppose Anti-BDS Bill
Read it

Electronic Intifada – ACLU slams Israel lobby group’s backing for anti-BDS bill
Read it


More News & Commentary

The New York Times – Roger Waters: Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates
Read it

The Nation – Nearly 50 Senators Want to Make it a Felony to Boycott Israel
Read it

Foreign Policy Journal – ‘The Palestine Exception’: War on BDS is now a War on American Democracy
Read it

GQ – Congress Is Looking to Punish Anyone Who Boycotts Israel
Read it

AAI, Washington Watch, James Zogby – Washington Watch: Senate Bill 720: Making It a Crime to Support Palestinian Human Rights
Read it

JTA – Influential progressive PAC [MoveOn] criticizes bill targeting Israel boycotts
Read it

Mondoweiss – Critics of U.S. ‘Israel Anti-Boycott Act’ say even requests for information could expose citizens to penalties
Read it

The Atlantic – Why an Effort to Thwart BDS Fails the Free-Speech Test
Read it – In poll, 69% Oppose AIPACs Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Read it – Boycotting Israel Could Soon Land You in Prison
Read it

CDN – The peaceful boycott against Israel’s 50-year occupation [includes information on current Congressional legislation]
Read it

VIDEO – AMP – Bill S.720, Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Watch it above on this page

VIDEO and TRANSCRIPT – PBS, Democracy Now – Criminalizing Critics of Israel: Congress Considers Sweeping Bills to Fine & Jail Backers of BDS
Read and watch

VIDEO – Ron Paul Liberty Report – Israel Anti-Boycott Act – An Attack On Free Speech?
Watch it


Senators’ Positions / Results of Opposition to Legislation

Electronic Intifada – Elizabeth Warren opposes Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Read it

Mondoweiss – At town hall, Sen. Warren says Israel Anti-Boycott Act ‘violates our basic constitution’
Read it

The Forward – Where I Stand On Israel BDS First Amendment, by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Read it

Josh Reubner, The Electronic Intifada – Senator Gillibrand pulls support for Israel Anti-Boycott Act
Read it

Mondoweiss – ‘Disappointed’ AIPAC targets Gillibrand for removing her name from boycott bill
Read it

Mondoweiss – Wyden turns himself into a pretzel on free speech and Israel Anti-Boycott bill
Read it

Roll Call – Democratic Senators Rethink Bill Criminalizing Support for Israel Boycott
Read it

Haaretz – Democrats in Congress Rethink Anti-boycott Bill in Wake of ACLU Warning
Read it

The Intercept – Senators Promise to Amend Israel Boycott Bill After Backlash
Read it