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A new bipartisan bill introduced Thursday in the House would strip all federal funds from any U.S. academic institution that decides to boycott Israel, according to a copy of the newly filed legislation obtained by the Free Beacon.
The introduction of the bill marks the first time that Congress has sought to level harsh economic penalties on federally funded universities that seek to boycott the Jewish state.
The bill comes just months after the American Studies Association (ASA) agreed to boycott Israeli academics and universities, prompting a fierce backlash from pro-Israel groups and others.
The “Protect Academic Freedom Act,” jointly filed by House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.) could serve as a deterrent to other groups considering Israeli boycotts.
It would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 “to prohibit an institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars from being eligible” to receive federal funds, according to text of the legislation.
“Attempts to single out Israel for discriminatory boycotts violates the principle of academic freedom guaranteed by the United States,” the bill states.
“This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts," Roskam said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea"
"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," Roskam said.
The anti-boycott bill is the latest step in a bipartisan counter-campaign launched by Roskam to isolate and marginalize any academic group that targets Israel with boycotts. In mid-January, 134 lawmakers led by Roskam wrote to the ASA to condemn its “thinly-veiled bigotry and bias against the Jewish State.”
Roskam, who has described the ASA’s efforts as “anti-Semitic,” said that the U.S. taxpayer should not fund institutions that seek to unfairly isolate Israel.
“These organizations are clearly free to do what they want to do under the First Amendment," Roskam said Tuesday on the House floor while discussing the issue. “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.”
The anti-boycott bill immediately garnered the backing of former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who has been a vocal critic of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to economically isolate Israel.
“The Protect Academic Freedom Act represents the first legislation that defends Israel against discriminatory boycotts which impede rather than advance the peace process and that seek to deny Israelis the right to free speech on American campuses,” Oren said in a statement issued via Roskam’s office.
“As a citizen of Israel and its former ambassador to the United States, as well as a historian and visiting professor on leading American campuses, I strongly support this courageous initiative,” Oren said. “It can be the turning point in the struggle against the delegitimization of the Jewish State."
The anti-boycott bill specifically targets academic institutions that have endorsed the BDS movement.
It targets any U.S. institution that “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,” according to the bill.”
The bill directs the Secretary of Education to build a list of “all institutions of higher education participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars.”
Those added to the list would then be ineligible “to receive funds or any other form of financial assistance,” according to the bill.
Pro-Israel organizations praised the legislation, calling it an effective step to preserve academic freedom.
“It makes eminent sense that Congress is considering common sense legislation to ensure the American people aren’t funding the work of extremists who seek to weaken and destroy Israel,” said Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project (TIP), which has helped lead the fight against academic boycotts.
“No U.S. taxpayer’s money should go to subsidize entities who engage in such vile behavior, because it is wrong, and fueled by anti-Semitic tropes and an anti-Israel derangement syndrome,” said Block.
This is not the first time Congress has gone after those who seek to isolate Israel.
Congress made it illegal in the 1970s for U.S. companies to boycott the Jewish state and established the Office of Antiboycott Compliance to enforce the law. The laws effectively banned U.S. companies from participating in the Arab League’s boycott of Israel.