A bill put forward in US Congress last week seeks to cut government funding from academic institutions that support boycotting Israel. This bill follows a similar move by the New York State Senate last month.
The NY bill did not specify Israel by name, but was designed specifically in response to the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions and their representatives. The bill passed in the NY State Senate, but later stalled in the Assembly.
The current Congressional bill, introduced February 6 by House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill), specifies Israel as the boycott target which would render an institution ineligible for federal funding. According to the bill, “…an institution of higher education shall not be eligible to receive funds or any other form of financial assistance under this Act if the Secretary determines that such institution is participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars.”
The bill goes on to explain, “The Secretary shall consider an institution of higher education to be participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars if the institution, 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.”
Opponents of the bill were quick to call it “unconstitutional.” Dima Khalidi, the Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement to anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss.net, ”This bill, like those proposed in the New York and Maryland state legislatures, is an outrageous assault on free speech…The bill violates the Constitution by denying funding to a university if any groups or individuals at that institution advocate for the academic boycott of Israel. It singles out and punishes only those boycotts that advocate for Palestinian rights. The First Amendment is clear: the government may not forbid controversial speech by students and academics based on its content or viewpoint.”
Roskam defended the bill, saying, “These organizations are clearly free to do what they want to do under the First Amendment, but the American taxpayer doesn’t have to subsidize it. The American taxpayer doesn’t have to be complicit in it. And the American taxpayer doesn’t have to play any part in it.”
Roskam issued a statement explaining that the bill is designed to combat bigotry aimed at Israel. He pointed out the world’s double-standard in taking aim at Israeli policies while ignoring flagrant human rights abuses elsewhere.
“Congress has a responsibility to fight back against these hateful campaigns, which contradict academic freedom and are designed to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel. I’m so thankful for the wisdom and leadership of Ambassador Michael Oren, who has helped raise awareness for this important effort,” Roskam said.
It should be noted that while the bill would withhold funding from institutions supporting BDS actions, it would not prevent them from receiving monies for student financial aid. Moreover, to date no American college or university has officially boycotted any Israeli institution; in fact, some 80 colleges denounced the ASA decision and another 5 universities withdrew their membership from the ASA over it. Associations like the ASA do not receive any direct state or federal funds.