Joe Kennedy Sponsors AIPAC’s Bill Penalizing Free Speech on Israel

With Trump as president, it is easy to forget that even some of those Democrats most vocal in their opposition to him are themselves pretty cowardly, often willing tools of their own favorite special interests.

The latest evidence of that slavishness comes in the form of support among some Democrats. like today’s hero, Rep. Joseph Kennedy, for legislation  that would make it felony for Americans to support the sanctions movement against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. Anyone guilty of  supporting sanctions would face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

According to the ACLU, the  legislation Kennedy sponsors would “bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories (emphasis mine) conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union. It would also… include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison….This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”

Pretty amazing. Why would Kennedy cosponsor such a law?

Yes, lots of people (including me) oppose boycotting Israel (although I certainly support boycotting the settlements) but how is it even possible to criminalize simply supporting a boycott to protest the occupation?

After all, we boycott states and municipalities here at home to protest discrimination based on race, sexual identity or anything else. Most recently, the state of North Carolina was faced with a boycott to protest its policy against allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms. How can it be legal to refuse to do business with North Carolina but illegal to refuse to do business with Israeli settlements?

The answer is simple: AIPAC, which is the lobby few Democrats are willing to cross. Here is its “Call to Action” sent to every member of the House and Senate telling them, in no uncertain terms, that the bill is a top priority of the lobby. And Kennedy doesn’t want to cross AIPAC and jeopardize the flow of campaign dollars from the lobby’s friends.

Am I being unfair to ascribe such venal motives to Kennedy?   I don’t think so because Kennedy consistently opposes other limits on free speech.   I cannot imagine any reason for this egregious offense against the First Amendment except to please AIPAC and AIPAC associated donors. I mean, doesn’t the First Amendment still allow free speech on Israel or have we carved out an exception.

 By supporting this limit on free speech to please some donors, this Kennedy shows he is no profile in courage.