On July 23rd, five interfaith activists, including former Moderator of the General Assembly, Rick Ufford-Chase, were denied permission to enter a passenger jet headed to Israel. They were part of a delegation of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish human rights advocates traveling to the region to promote a non-violent end to the on-going Isreali Palestinian conflict. Those denied entry included members of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Jewish Voice for Peace
Earlier this year, Israel passed legislation banning entry to supporters of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, an international effort to boycott businesses in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories in order to pressure Israel to comply with international law and stop the further construction of settlements. It applies to any activist “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility”.
It also bans entry visas and residency rights for those who call for boycotts of Israeli institutions in any “area under its control”, including Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are regarded as illegal under international law. While the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not a part of the official Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement, the PCUSA General Assembly has voted to divest from companies that are profiting off the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The General Assembly also voted in favor of a boycott of products made in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Now, there is legislation before the US congress to criminalize participation in boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel or Israeli institutions in the West Bank. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720/HR 1697) is cosponsored by 46 Senators and 246 Representatives.
If this legislation passes, businesses and individuals who do not buy from Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories and who make public statements saying that they are doing so in order to boycott could face large fines and prison time. Violations of this law could be punishable by civil and criminal penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison.
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, the national legal and political directors of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that “The ACLU . . . takes no position for or against campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country. But since our organization’s founding in 1920, the ACLU has defended the right to collective action. This bill threatens that right.”
Last fall, the Presbyterian Church USA joined 13 other denominations and faith based organizations in a statement against the efforts to criminalizing non-violent economic measures. They stated that,
“Churches and church-related organizations have employed such nonviolent tactics in many instances of injustice, both domestically and globally, over the decades. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the boycott of products made by slave labor are some historical precedents… The current effort to penalize or criminalize such use of economic leverage in the specific case of Israel-Palestine is therefore offensive and disturbing. It strikes us as an attempt to remove a responsible, powerful, and legal method of public witness as an option. To target economic measures in any way on one specific policy issue—Israel-Palestine—is selective and inconsistent. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, without dissent, the right to boycott (1982).”
When contacted after his denial of entry to Israel, Moderator Rick Ufford Chase commented that, "This legislation before Congress, coupled with Israel's enforcement of the travel ban enacted by the Knesset in the spring, is a chilling indication of both countries' growing intolerance of dissent - even dissent that is clearly nonviolent and constructive in its intent."
Please contact your members of congress today!