With Congress back in session this week following summer recess, dozens of progressive advocacy groups sent a letter to all members on Tuesday urging them to support a resolution that affirms Americans’ right to participate in political boycotts.
The resolution is in response to growing attacks on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), a campaign that aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, among other demands.
Win Without War, a group that advocates for a more progressive foreign policy, led the organizing effort to draft the letter, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
The Jewish organizations If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace were among the 40 groups to sign the letter. The other organizations come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including Christian, Muslim, Native American, LGBTQ rights, environmentalist, and civil liberties groups.
“Boycotts have been central to dismantling systems of injustice both at home and abroad,” the organizations wrote, according to a copy of the letter provided to The Globe Post.
The resolution – H. Res. 496 – affirms that “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
It was introduced in July by congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were both denied entry into Israel in August because of their support for the boycott. Rep. John Lewis – an icon of the U.S. civil rights movement – is also an original co-sponsor of the resolution.
A string of recent legislation at both the federal and state level has sought to penalize Americans who boycott Israel.
In February, the Senate passed the Combating BDS Act, which encourages states to enact laws that could penalize businesses, organizations or individuals that participate in the boycott.
Such laws currently exist in 27 states. Last year, a speech pathologist in Texas was fired from her job at a public school after she declined to sign a document that affirms that she “does not currently boycott Israel and will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.”
For the American Civil Liberties Union, such laws violate Americans’ free speech rights and are “antithetical to First Amendment principles.”
Thus far, three federal courts have agreed, striking down anti-boycott laws in Texas, Arizona and Kansas. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that political boycotts are a protected form of free speech.
“At a moment when freedom of speech, association, and assembly are coming under increasing attack across the board, affirming our right to boycott is more important than ever,” the organizations wrote.
“We must stand strong against all attempts to suppress protected political speech.”
The resolution sponsored by Omar, Tlaib and Lewis notes that boycotts have been successfully used throughout U.S. history to help bring about social change, from the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement.
Such efforts have also been used in response to injustice abroad. In the 1980s, for example, Americans helped lead the boycott of Apartheid South Africa, contributing to the ultimate downfall of that government and the creation of bi-racial democracy.
“As progressives, we must act in solidarity with those around the world striving for equality and justice in their own societies if we are ever to create a more just and peaceful world,” Kate Kizer, the policy director at Win Without War, told The Globe Post.
“At a time when political space and expression is under attack here at home and around the world, it is imperative that Congress stand on the side of justice by affirming the right to boycott unjust policies no matter where these injustices occur. Staying silent in the face of impunity – whether that of U.S. allies or U.S. competitors – is no longer an option.”