The Anti-Israel Boycott Act … and More
I ran across U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign against Israel recently. Glenn Greenwald—who worked with Edward Snowden*—and Ryan Grim wrote the piece for The Intercept, an impressive journalism enterprise which Mr. Greenwald started with others.
The story reports on the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S. 720, and a companion bill which sits in the House of Representatives. S. 720, among other things, prevents U.S. persons who are engaged in interstate or foreign commerce from:
Requesting the imposition of any boycott by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States; or
Supporting any boycott fostered or imposed by an international organization, or requesting imposition of any such boycott, against Israel.
Penalties? I’m relying on the journalists, as the bill amends an existing law and picks up its penalties, which makes the “fact” checking less than simple. That said, they report a minimum civil penalty of $250,000, and criminal sanction of up to $1,000,000 and 20 years in prison.
Scared yet? The Senate bill has 43 co-sponsors, while the House version has the support of 234 representatives. And POTUS needs wins!
I’m focused on two features of our American way, raised clearly by the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. First, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, helped draft the bill. (Here’s the AIPAC bill summary.)
Lobbyists writing laws? Say it ain’t so! So!!! The National Rifle Association drafts gun legislation. ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—writes business-friendly, conservative laws for state legislatures. AIPAC, and many other effective organizations, whether on the Left or Right, write laws whenever they can.
There’s nothing inherently bad about lobbyists drafting laws. The organizations know the issues well and, often, employ talented people whose skills add value. If the bill at issue gets a free and full debate, and the lobbyists don’t own the legislators, the process can work. Too often, unfortunately, even a rigged debate represents an unattainable goal, and the lobbyists own the legislators, from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet.
Change on the horizon on this one? Changing the way in which interest groups own legislators, and the way we do campaign finance and elections, seems less likely than my waking up tomorrow, realizing I’ve had the craziest dream about a 70-ish buffoon who took over my country.
Then there’s the other thing. Messrs. Greenwald and Grim reached out to several senators and representatives. Here’s co-sponsor Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): “I’d want to read it. … I’d really have to look at it.” Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), also a co-sponsor: “I continue to support a strong U.S. / Israel relationship.” And lead advocate on the D side, Senator Ben Cardon (D-Md.), according to the article, claimed it included no criminal penalties.
We pay U.S. Senators $174,000. We also give them money to pay staffs totaling several 10s worth of people. So I think we ought to expect them to know what the f*ck they’re doing. They don’t, sadly, and here’s one reason why.
We live in an identity world. You like seniors? You favor more Medicare spending. Doesn’t matter much how well that money’s being spent, for if you’re on the side of seniors more is better. You’re a Main Street R? Tax cuts are your deal. Do they help anyone, other than those who pay less? Who cares, as long as you know the people who pay less … and they share.
Figuring out what does and doesn’t work requires effort. Brains. Time. Sadly, we spend plenty for a part-time national legislature. Oh, the guys and gals work hard, but far too much effort involves Dialing for Dollars. Lobbyists have figured this out, and they score their Senators and Representatives serfs. Sponsoring S. 720 helps with the Jews. Sponsor the bill, and you’ll get invited to speak to Jewish groups, where nice, rich Jews show up with checkbooks. Support the NRA, and life is good. Buck it, and expect to get a primary opponent if you’re an R. Etc.
By the way, the people we elect reflect our approach to the issues. Most people belong to Team D or R … and that includes the Independents who “vote for the person.” We use shorthand to identify and align, too. The difference? We have day jobs, and we’re paying our elected representatives to pay attention, be smart and get it right.
The Anti-Israel Boycott Act matters. Greatly. If this bill leaves the Congress President Donald Trump will sign it faster than my dog Max can dash from here to there … and it doesn’t matter how far there is from here. (He’s that fast!) On the merits, do what you can to defeat this anti-American legislation. And, writ larger, and in my humble opinion, we give our legislators too much credit on the knowledge / ability / judgment scales.
*So we’re all clear here, I think Edward Snowden belongs in a prison in the United States of America for a very, very long time. I almost passed on looking at this piece when I saw Mr. Greenwald’s name attached to it.