The U.S. is on the cutting edge of unconstitutional laws making it illegal not to buy Israeli goods. This year, the New York State Senate passed comprehensive legislation to prohibit colleges from using state aid to fund any entity that boycotts Israel; to block public funding for student groups that “participate in hate speech,” the only example being BDS; and to prohibit the state from contracting with any organization known to support BDS. Nineteen other states have similar legislation on the books. In March 2017, Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and 48 co-sponsors introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, an audacious law that makes it a felony for Americans to boycott Israel or its settlements. The text of the bill names the United Nations Human Rights Council as the primary actor behind actions “designed to stigmatize and isolate Israel internationally,” namely that they are “considering a resolution...to withhold assistance from and prevent trade with territories occupied since 1967.” Again, even though the UNHRC is unaffiliated with the BDS movement — and though its calls for a blacklist of companies working in the settlements only overlaps with a portion of the BDS platform — the law codifies “the opposition of the United States to actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” For these actions, the penalty would be up to $1 million in fines and 20 years in prison. According to the ACLU, the bill is “in direct violation of the First Amendment.” Despite widespread backlash, the only co-sponsor to back out so far is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who pledged not to support the bill “in its current form.”
Whenever bipartisanship like this arises in the U.S., it can be safely assumed that money from big donors is pouring into both sides. Public opinion is not nearly as voraciously pro-Israel as the Senate consensus would imply. Polling by the centrist Brookings Institution shows 60 percent of Democrats and 46 percent overall agreeing that “the U.S. should impose some economic sanctions/take more serious action with regard to new Israeli settlements,” with both on an upward curve. Meanwhile, senators are moving in the opposite direction at the behest of a group of wealthy donors with a vendetta against Israel’s critics and BDS in particular. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, for instance, has donated tens of millions to opponents of BDS, particularly those focused on opposing pro-Palestine campus activists. (Adelson also donated $35 million to GOP Senate races alone in 2016.) On the Democratic side, Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who once co-chaired an anti-BDS initiative with Sheldon Adelson, donated more than $16 million to Democrats in 2016. Meanwhile, J Street, the only political action committee with an Israel-Palestine take remotely left of center, could only muster up $3 million in total contributions."