HR 1697, titled the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (IABA), is an anti-boycott bill that criminalizes participation in boycotts of Israel and its illegal settlements. The bill amends the Export Administration Act of 1979 (EAA), which prohibited boycotts “fostered or imposed” by a foreign country and specifically the Arab League boycott. H.R. 1697 expands the EAA to prohibit U.S. individuals and entities from complying with or supporting boycotts for Palestinian rights fostered or imposed by international governmental organizations, such as the European Union or the United Nations. In March 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a database of companies contributing to Israel’s illegal settlements. Under the IABA, such accountability efforts, as well as supporting or furnishing information for these efforts, constitute prohibited activities. Violations are subject to civil penalties of $250,000 and criminal penalties of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.
The bill conflates coercive commercial boycotts—like the Arab League boycott where U.S. companies were forced to boycott Israel as a condition of doing business with other foreign parties—with constitutionally protected political expression in support of Palestinian rights. The bill also amends the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 to include “politically motivated” economic activity against Israel as a reason for denying credit applications for the export of goods and services between the U.S. and foreign countries.
In response to criticism from activists and civil liberties groups, the bill was amended, but the changes fail to address the underlying constitutional concerns raised by targeting political boycotts with criminal penalties. Similar legislation introduced in the previous Congress (HR 6298, S 3465) also failed. Related legislation: S 720.