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Sen. Ben Cardin proposes changes to controversial bill on Israel boycotts

Sen. Ben Cardin proposes changes to controversial bill on Israel boycotts
Maryland Senator Ben Cardin (Robert K. Hamilton / Baltimore Sun)

Sen. Ben Cardin released an updated version of a controversial bill Saturday that is intended to prohibit businesses from taking part in international efforts to boycott Israel.

The bipartisan bill attempts to limit participation in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, a global campaign intended to pressure Israel from withdrawing from occupied Palestinian territory in Gaza and the West Bank. But the legislation drew sharp criticism from the ACLU and other groups last year, who described it as a threat to free speech.

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Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said Saturday that the updated language affirmed business rights under the First Amendment, offered a statement supporting the rights of U.S. citizens to engage in personal boycotts and limited punishment to monetary penalties.

Supporters of the bill have been working for months to address concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s not clear if the updated legislation will do so.

“We have welcomed the public discussions that have been essential in focusing this bipartisan legislation in such a way that definitively upholds the rights of individual Americans while clarifying decades-old legislation,” Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

Cardin, who is up for reelection this year and has faced criticism for the measure from several opponents in the Democratic primary, took the unusual step of announcing the changes on a Saturday.

The updated bill continues to enjoy bipartisan support. Three other senators offered their support in the announcement Saturday: Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mike Crapo of Idaho, both Republicans, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

“I am confident this bill strikes the right balance between protecting U.S. businesses and our Israeli allies from unfair targeting by international organization, while upholding America’s commitment to free speech and individual liberty,” Portman said in a statement.

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