Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

"Were this legislation to pass, federal officials would have a new weapon at their disposal to chill and suppress speech that they found objectionable or politically unpopular," warned Kate Ruane, an attorney with the ACLU. "If the First Amendment means anything, it's that the government cannot suppress political expression it doesn't like."(Photo: Corey Oakley/flickr/cc)

'A Cowardly Act': Democrat Leads Bipartisan Push to Sneak Criminalization of Pro-Palestinian BDS Campaign Into Must-Pass Spending Bill

"No Democrat who considers themselves to be a progressive—and no member of Congress who claims to defend free speech—should be co-sponsoring any anti-BDS legislation."

Jake Johnson

In what civil libertarians and progressive advocacy groups are denouncing as a "cowardly" sneak-attack on free expression, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is reportedly leading a behind-the-scenes bipartisan effort to cram legislation that would criminalize boycotts of Israel into a must-pass omnibus spending package now moving through Congress.

"Hiding anti-BDS legislation in end-of-the-year packages is a cowardly act and one that is being considered only because members of Congress know that this legislation would not pass muster if debated publicly and openly."
—Iram Ali, MoveOn.org

"This is a full-scale attack on Americans' First Amendment freedoms," argued Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, which has circulated a petition urging Congress to block the measure. "Political boycotts, including boycotts of foreign countries, have played a pivotal role in this nation’s history—from the boycotts of British goods during the American Revolution to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa."

Titled the "Israel Anti-Boycott Act," the legislation has stalled in the face of fierce opposition from free speech advocates and Palestinian rights groups, but Cardin is reportedly working with leaders of both parties to exploit the final days of the lame-duck session and ram the measure through with little or public scrutiny.

If passed, the measure would strike a significant blow against the growing Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement, which has been endorsed by two newly-elected Democratic members of Congress—Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

"Regardless of how anyone may personally feel about BDS, Congress' attempts to attach criminal penalties to freedom of expression against the Israeli occupation must not stand," Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn.org, said in a statement on Monday. "Hiding anti-BDS legislation in end-of-the-year packages is a cowardly act and one that is being considered only because members of Congress know that this legislation would not pass muster if debated publicly and openly."

When Cardin's bill was introduced in the Senate last year, it was co-sponsored by 42 Republicans, Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), and 15 Democrats—including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"No Democrat who considers themselves to be a progressive—and no member of Congress who claims to defend free speech—should be co-sponsoring any anti-BDS legislation," Ali concluded.

As the ACLU's Ruane noted in a summary of the measure's far-reaching implications for free speech, "knowingly violating the bill could result in criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million."

"Were this legislation to pass, federal officials would have a new weapon at their disposal to chill and suppress speech that they found objectionable or politically unpopular," Ruane concluded. "If the First Amendment means anything, it's that the government cannot suppress political expression it doesn't like."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·


Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·


'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·


Right-Wing Supreme Court Poised to Make US Gun Carnage Even Worse

The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority could soon "obliterate even the mildest of gun regulations in service of its gun lobby masters."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Enough Is Enough!': Thousands Protest Outside NRA Convention in Texas

"I'm just tired of the NRA subordinating children's rights for gun rights," said one gun lobby opponent just three days after the school massacre in Uvalde.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo