But the gag bill before Congress goes even further, potentially creating both civil and criminal penalties for Americans who exercise their constitutionally protected right to free speech. Violating the Constitution in this way hurts Americans and does nothing to help Israel. In fact, it undermines progressive Israelis, who are working against this legislation in their own country.
Even some of the bill’s initial supporters are taking a closer look. Notably, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, withdrew her sponsorship for the legislation, saying: “I cannot support the bill in its current form if it can be interpreted as stifling or chilling free speech. I would never put my name on legislation that would do that.”
Like the Kansas law being challenged by the A.C.L.U., the bill before Congress also undermines 50 years of American foreign policy and hurts Israeli democracy. That’s because it — like the Israeli laws upon which it is based — specifically includes “Israeli-controlled territories,” making no distinction between boycotting Israel and boycotting the settlements in the occupied territories. Through this intentional conflation, the bill erases the boundary between the State of Israel and the territories it captured during the 1967 Six Day War and has occupied since. This directly contradicts American policy, which has consistently held Israel’s settlements to be “illegal” or “illegitimate.”
Refusing to distinguish between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is a strategy the current hard-line government of Israel and the anti-Israel boycotters share.
The Israeli far-right does this by funding, expanding and potentially annexing settlements, and by normalizing the settlements, especially in the minds of Israelis, as indistinguishable from the rest of Israel. Last month, the government sponsored an event celebrating 50 years of settlements; Mr. Netanyahu has declared that the West Bank is “the inheritance of our ancestors” and settlements are “here to stay, forever.”
On the other hand, anti-Israel boycotters consider all Israeli products and institutions equally untouchable. They oppose targeting “only companies implicated in Israel’s occupation” as a half-measure, only acceptable when pursued “tactically,” not because of a recognition that there is a difference, both practically and under international law, between Tel Aviv and an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
The endgame of Israeli policy here is potentially disastrous. If the border between Israel and the occupation is truly erased, so, too, will the potential for a two-state solution, still the stated goal of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and the European Union, and the best and most realistic resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
After the Six Day War, Israelis found themselves in a dilemma about their future. Israel was a democracy, Israel was a Jewish state, and Israel controlled Palestinian territory beyond its internationally recognized borders. Fifty years later, the dilemma remains the same. Israel can choose to be two of those things — but not all three. If Israel is to remain the realization of the Jews’ right to self-determination, it cannot continue to control and occupy the Palestinian territories.
But in service of their agenda to destroy any chance for a two-state solution, Israeli hard-liners and settlement lobbyists are willing to compromise fundamental freedoms. The United States should not sacrifice its own sacred constitutional principals in order to help them.
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