House Foreign Affairs approves bills expanding anti-boycott legislation, human shield sanctions

The committee approved a bill expanding anti-boycott laws by a 42-3 vote and a bill adding sanctions on terrorists using human shields unanimously

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., arrives for the House Financial Services Committee hearing titled "Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission," in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

The House Foreign Affairs committee voted along strongly bipartisan lines on Wednesday to advance a bill expanding the U.S.’ current anti-boycott laws designed to combat international boycotts of Israel and other U.S. allies, and a sanctions law targeting terrorist groups that use human shields.

The IGO Anti-Boycott Act passed the committee by a 42-3 vote, with Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Sara Jacobs (D-CA) and Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) voting against. 

The bill expands the Anti-Boycott Act, which prohibits U.S. companies and citizens from participating in boycotts of countries “friendly to the United States” organized by foreign governments or providing information that could facilitate such boycotts, to include boycotts organized by international governmental organizations like the United Nations and European Union.

The committee also voted unanimously for a bill that would expand sanctions authority targeting terrorist groups that utilize human shields.

The Strengthening Tools to Counter the Use of Human Shields Act would extend the sunset for these sanctions through 2030; allow some top lawmakers to request the administration evaluate specific individuals for sanctions and provide a determination on their eligibility to Congress; expand the sanctions to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (in addition to Hamas and Hezbollah, which are currently covered); and require that the administration report to Congress on past experience countering the use of human shields and how it is utilizing and sharing those takeaways with allies.

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who sponsored the boycotts bill with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), said during yesterday’s Foreign Affairs meeting that the legislation aims to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel. Existing law does not prohibit companies or individuals from deciding of their own accord to boycott Israel.

“With this bill, American companies wouldn’t just be protected from engaging in other countries’ blacklists, but also a blacklist maintained by IGOs [Intergovernmental Organizations] like the United Nations,” Lawler said. “Anti-Israel bias is clear and present at the U.N., and it is critical for the U.S. anti-boycott laws to cover the U.N. and other IGOs with the same bias.”

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) said he did not think the bill was necessary and could have been better crafted but said he supported it because it “falls on the right side of the ledger.”

Castro said the bill is “incredibly broad, and gives incredible discretion to a president and his or her administration on the application of this law that could possibly trample over different constitutional rights of Americans,” including the right to participate in a boycott. He also argued that it could be exploited by a future president to protect malign actors to which the administration seeks to turn a blind eye.

Castro introduced a pair of amendments seeking to clarify and narrow the scope of the bill, which were defeated by bipartisan 38-5 and 39-3 votes. A third Castro amendment, which would require the administration to annually publish a list of boycotts that would fall under the parameters of the bill, passed by a voice vote with Lawler’s endorsement.

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