WASHINGTON—The “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” currently pending in both chambers of Congress, raises significant First Amendment concerns and—if it is to be considered at all—must be revised, PEN America said today. As written, the bill would create serious criminal penalties for individuals and companies in the United States engaged in constitutionally protected boycotts protesting Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

U.S. courts have consistently held that the First Amendment protects political boycotts. Such protests have been tools for social reform throughout American history, and were particularly important during the Civil Rights movement.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697 and S. 720) would extend existing laws that discourage companies from participating in the Arab League boycott of Israel to individuals and companies that participate in boycotts of goods or services from the occupied territories, if called for by international governmental groups such as the United Nations or European Union. It would also dramatically expand criminal penalties, with fines of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in prison, for participation in any boycott. 

Growing criticism of the legislation has also led proponents to engage in ad hominem attacks against groups opposing the bill. This week, Tablet magazine ran a story attributing the American Civil Liberties Union’s opposition to the bill to a claimed anti-Israel bias on the part of Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s new national political director, and neglecting to even address the organization’s argument on its merits.

 “Reasonable minds may differ on the propriety of a boycott on Israel or the occupied territories, but the First Amendment is clear: political boycotts are protected speech,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “This legislation would make participation in boycotts directed at changing Israeli policies a felony and is unconstitutional on its face. ”

Outcry over the current, overbroad draft of the bill led some lawmakers to withhold or withdraw their support, and many expect that it will be rewritten to address these concerns.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins Lien, Director of Communications: [email protected], +1 646.779.4830