BDS Proponents Confront Sen. Cardin at Town Hall

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) defended his legislation that’s aimed at combating the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement but emphasized that Americans would still have the “absolute right to boycott” Israel with his bill in effect.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would “amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to include in the prohibitions on boycotts against allies of the United States boycotts fostered by international governmental organizations against Israel and to direct the Export-Import Bank of the United States to oppose boycotts against Israel, and for other purposes.”

“If you are being forced to comply with an international or organization boycott, it’s the same as a foreign country – it’s a simplification but it’s basically in the bill,” Cardin said during a town hall in Rockville, Md., last Thursday. “Therefore, if you are, as a businessperson, in this country and want to speak out against what Israel is doing, if you want to boycott Israel as a sign of your protest, if you want to encourage other people to boycott, other businesses to boycott Israel, you have the absolute right to do it and there’s not one thing in my legislation that would change that.”

A woman at the town hall asked Cardin to “convince” her that he’s not going to “penalize” her just because she came to the U.S. from the Palestinian territories.

“I can assure you that I will never support and introduce bills that will have you have such a penalty because of your beliefs, absolutely not, the bill does not do that and I don’t know how else I can say that and some of the people who have questioned tonight have been very accurate in the way they describe the legislation,” Cardin said.

The woman replied, “It’s not about my beliefs, it’s about my identity as a Palestinian.”

Cardin responded, “No, if being a Palestinian – what this bill deals with is being coerced to comply with a foreign-imposed boycott. It has nothing to do with your individual rights to espouse your belief or to take action based on your belief on your commercial activities. Your speech and your commerce is totally protected.”

Cardin was asked why he supports billions of dollars in aid to Israel each year. Cardin replied that he supports a “two-state” solution and that the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been “tragic” for both sides.

“The United States has tried,” Cardin said before audience members started shouting, “You support settlements” and “no money for settlements.”

The senator replied, “John Kerry put in more personal time between the Palestinians and the Israelis and I have talked, I’ve been to the West Bank, I’ve talked to Palestinian leaders. I’ve been to the Gaza border. I’ve been and I frequently meet with Palestinian leaders who come to the United States. I meet with the leaders in the Middle East who travel here frequently from the surrounding countries. Believe me, I understand the frustration that’s out there. The only way you are going to get peace is with the parties sitting down and negotiating, and that’s going to require leadership between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

People in the crowd began chanting, “Cut the money. Cut the money.”

Another member of the audience shouted that the anti-BDS bill “gives aid to Israel and cover to Israel.”

In July, the ACLU wrote a letter to U.S. senators calling on them not to support Cardin’s bill. “The bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment,” the letter read.

“Let me assure you, I have a great deal of respect for the ACLU,” Cardin said. “I strongly support a lot of their positions. I would ask you to go back and talk to the ACLU because their initial letter was not accurate, and I think they will acknowledge that to you.”

Cardin and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told the ACLU the bill does not restrict “constitutionally protected” free speech or “punish” U.S. residents based on their political beliefs.