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House Bill to Slap Financial Penalties on anti-Israel Boycotts

The proposed legislation would prevent American taxpayers from having to subsidize the views of those seeking to marginalize and to penalize Israeli scholars and academic institutions
Cong. Peter Roskam (R-IL) introducing the Protect Academic Freedom Act on Tues., Feb. 4, 2014

Cong. Peter Roskam (R-IL) introducing the Protect Academic Freedom Act on Tues., Feb. 4, 2014
Photo Credit: Cong. Roskam screen capture

This week the “Protect Academic Freedom Act” was introduced into the U.S. Congress. If passed, the legislation will block universities from receiving federal funds if they engage in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars.

The Bipartisan Protect Academic Freedom Act (H.R. 4009) was introduced on Tuesday, Feb. 4, by Reps. Peter Roskum (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). The measure would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The congressmen said the bill was introduced in order “to address the growing threat of unjustified boycotts against the Jewish State of Israel,” according to a statement they released on Thursday.

By introducing the proposed legislation, Roskam and Lipinski seek “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom.”

The much-maligned boycott resolution passed by the American Studies Association in December, 2013, was specifically mentioned as an impetus for the bill. The ASA was the second academic association to pass boycott measures in 2013.  It is anticipated that many more academic associations may consider similar measures this year.

On the floor of the House, Roskam described the ASA boycott as a “shameful thing” which was “clearly an act of anti-Semitism” on the part of those voting in favor of the boycott.

Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren is quoted in the statement released by the congressional co-sponsors announcing the proposed legislation.

“The Protect Academic Freedom Act represents the first legislation that defends Israel against discriminatory boycotts which impede rather than advance the peace process and that seek to deny Israelis the right to free speech on American campuses,” said former Ambassador Michael Oren.

“As a citizen of Israel and its former ambassador to the United States, as well as an historian and visiting professor on leading American campuses, I strongly support this courageous initiative. It can be the turning point in the struggle against the delegitimization of the Jewish State,” was Oren’s strong endorsement of the bill.

“This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts. It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea,” said Congressman Roskam, the Chief Deputy Whip and co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus.

Roskam explained that academics are protected by the First Amendment to have and to express their views against Israel, “but the American taxpayer doesn’t have to participate in it, the American taxpayer doesn’t have to be complicit in it, and the American taxpayer doesn’t have to take any part in it.”

“As a former university professor, I appreciate the value of academic exchanges involving universities and individuals, particularly between strong international allies with robust academic programs like the United States and Israel. Scholarship and research should be about the pursuit of knowledge, and universities have been and always should be a community where different opinions and ideas are encouraged and nourished,” said Congressman Dan Lipinski.

HOW THE BILL WOULD WORK IN PRACTICE

The language in the proposed bill states that any institution of higher education shall not be eligible for federal funds if the Secretary of Education “determines that such institution is participating in a boycott of  Israeli academic institutions or scholars.”

The way to determine whether a university is participating in a boycott – which is not necessarily obvious as, for example, the ASA is not a part of a specific university – is “if the institutions or any significant part of the institution, or any organization significantly funded by the institution adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, or any other involvement with academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the State of Israel.”

In other words, for example, with respect to the ASA boycott: first the secretary of education would determine whether there is an American Studies Department at a given university. If there is, and that AS department or the parent university has not withdrawn from the ASA, the university’s federal funding will be at risk. The same would be true for any other association that passes an academic boycott measure.

HARVARD STUDENTS PUBLICLY ASKED THEIR UNIVERSITY TO WITHDRAW FROM THE ASA

Harvard students Sara Greenberg and Yoav Schaefer applauded Harvard University President Drew Faust for condemning the ASA boycott in a letter written to Faust published in the Harvard Crimson earlier this month. The students urged Faust to go the next step, demonstrating “moral leadership and immediately withdraw Harvard’s institutional membership from the ASA.”  The students pointed out that other universities had done exactly that, in the wake of the ASA boycott. Brandeis Univesity, Penn State Harrisburg, Kenyon College and Indiana University have all already withdrawn from the ASA.

The Harvard students asked its university “to uphold its values and set an example for other universities around the country, showing that organizations promoting such boycotts will not only be denounced, but will also lose support from America’s leading academic institutions.”

Now Greenberg and Schaefer can add a financial basis to their moral basis for encouraging Harvard to withdraw from the tainted American Studies Association.

Last month, Congressman Roskam led a bipartisan letter signed by 134 Members of Congress, including Congressman Lipinski, to the American Studies Association (ASA) condemning its academic boycott of Israel.

Congressman Roskam announced this initiative on the House floor on Tuesday morning. Watch the video of his announcement, below. The bill will be referred to the House Committee on Education.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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8 Responses to “House Bill to Slap Financial Penalties on anti-Israel Boycotts”

  1. Romi Itzik says:

    nicht neu Nothing New

  2. Dan Silagi says:

    This is a stupid law, and is blatantly unconstitutional. If the BDSholes are proscribed from boycotting Israel, then it would only be fair to extend the law so that, for instance, American educational institutions can't boycott Italy for what the Italians are trying to do to Amanda Knox. This law would have to be extended to all academic boycotts because a law only forbidding boycotts of Israel would be a bill of attainder (a law affecting only one person or group of people). Even then, it would be a violation of the First Amendment.

  3. Jane Smith says:

    American universities aren't boycotting Italy over the possible extradition of Amanda Knox, so your analogy is ludicrous. The majority of US taxpayers do NOT want to participate in the persecution of the State of Israel or the Jews, and they should not be forced, through taxation, to do so.

  4. Terry Beals says:

    I am for the bill. However, I would say that if they want freedom to "boycott" or anything else, they should not be receiving government funds. Then again, can the government be totally without bias when in comes to spending our tax dollars? Government needs to get TOTALLY OUT of the subsidizing business and let business and institutions operate on their own, the way our nation worked a grew for 200 years. They need to go back to the constitution and do their responsibility stated there and get back to our sure foundations.

  5. How is it unconstitutional? It puts no restrictions on individual rights to say what they want or to boycott who they want. It does not restrict the rights to assemble. It does not promote or discourage any religion. It just prevents government money from being used to prevent others from practicing their rights to practice free speech and to assemble. Really, this bill does more to enhance the first amendment by preventing entities that take government money from promoting their own ideals at the expense of others. Your boycotts are both unconstitutional and anti-intellectual, and anybody supporting them has no interest in furthering the collective knowledge of mankind. Government grants should only go towards expanding our understanding of the universe around us, not as tools of pseudo-intellectuals to destroy part of that universe and understanding. If you still want to boycott Israel, start or join your own movement without government money or join the neo-nazis… this bill doesn't restrict your freedoms to do either.

  6. Lynn Bianca Baronti says:

    So glad something is being done about this.

  7. Maynard Miller says:

    I'll keep my fingers crossed that the bill will pass. Who ever came up with the idea to boycott Israel, our friend? Why not boycott our enemies i.e. North Korea and Iran? We are over run by dummies in this country.

  8. Lani Lowell says:

    Stopping The libel and slander against the State of Israel is hardly preferential treatment. This bill is preventing the unfair singling out of Israel by special interests groups who have no interest in acknowledging or presenting facts , simply because they want to block the development of Jews.When does free speech turn into attack, libel and slander with untruths? I think this bill is a great advancement exactly because it addresses that issue. When Jewish students feel intimidated on campuses across the country! it is simply time to address the anti semitic elephant in the living room.

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