40 years after the US formally criminalized the participation of US citizens
in economic boycotts of the state of Israel, Americans remain strongly divided
on the question of the BDS movement, which seeks to protest Israeli behavior
in the occupied territories through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.
While there were some ad-hoc boycotts against Israel even in the years before
its formal founding, including a 1945 Arab League call to boycott anything that
might lead to the realization of the Zionist ambition, the BDS movement began
growing in earnest around the 1967 war, and 1973 Yom Kippur War.
A new poll from Israel’s
Channel 2 found that one third of Americans continue to support the BDS movement,
even though participating in it is technically
illegal. The poll also claimed 62% of Americans believe that any participation
in the BDS movement is automatically “anti-Semitism.”
That’s certainly been Israel’s talking point, with Ambassador Danny
Danon declaring exactly that during a conference at the UN General Assembly,
which sought to discuss how to clamp down on pro-BDS sentiment at American college
Danon insisted that recent efforts by the UN to set up a database of businesses
operating in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were overt
racist that “encouraged the boycott of Jewish companies.”
Interestingly, if it actually was overt racism, in the US it wouldn’t be illegal,
as the anti-boycott laws and the Office of Antiboycott Compliance broadly target
boycotts against Israel as a state, and even then only as it relates to Arab
League calls to boycott them over the abuse of Palestinians. The law does not
ban boycotts of Jews as an ethnic or religious minority.
Rather, the anti-boycott laws reflect the efforts of US politicians, from the
late 1970’s through today, to suck up to the powerful pro-Israel lobbies, even
if the law is practically unenforceable and overtly hostile to free speech.
In theory, this law requires all Americans to submit quarterly reports of every
single time they’ve been asked to take part in or express support for the boycott
of Israel, though naturally virtually no Americans do this and in practice the
Office of Antiboycott Compliance is far too small to field 300 million reports
from Americans four times a year.
In practice, this ban has only meant a handful of fines doled out in any given
year, usually to shipping companies which agreed not to use an Israeli-flagged
ship to transport goods to a country that doesn’t let Israeli-flagged ships
In 2015, only a
single warning letter was sent by the entire office, which warned that a
company had affirmed in an export document that the goods they were to export
were made in the US and not in Israel. The office told them they’re not allowed