Rep. Alan Grayson is well known as a progressive advocate in Congress, and a strong supporter of civil liberties. That makes the bill he just proposed even more appalling.
On May 30, 2014, the very same day that Grayson passed an important amendment banning funding for prosecuting journalists for refusing to reveal their sources, Grayson introduced H.R. 4776, “To prohibit an institution of higher education that participates in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia from receiving funds from the U.S. federal government.” Grayson’s bill is part of a widespread attack on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Grayson’s bill is among the worst of these attacks. It would impose a total ban on federal funding to any college, public or private, that “adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, financial interaction, or any other involvement with the Israeli government, economy, or academia–including academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the State of Israel–then that institution shall be determined to be participating in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia.”
This is extraordinarily broad language. First of all, Grayson’s bill is not limited to academic boycotts. It covers any boycott of any Israeli product or company. So if a university decided not to invest in Israeli companies that are deemed to harm Palestinians, it would lose all federal funding. Want the campus cafeteria to boycott Israeli hummus? All federal funding will be immediately stripped from the college.
Second, Grayson’s bill goes far beyond attacking the BDS movement. For example, imagine that a serious of attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Israel causes an American university to temporarily stop sending its students to study abroad in Israel due to safety concerns. Under Grayson’s bill, this would constitute a boycott of an Israeli academic institution and result in the loss of all federal funding.
It’s unclear exactly how far Grayson’s bill would extend. If a student group or a department decided not to invite an Israeli scholar, would this trigger the total ban on federal funding? If a university issues a statement against injustices in Israel, would that violate this bill? That’s a matter of interpretation. But the effect of a ban on all federal funds would be so catastrophic to almost any college that the vagueness of this bill’s language would be likely to cause some universities to suppress academic freedom out of fear.
Regardless of whether or not you support boycotts of Israel, the use of government funding bans to force colleges to obey Grayson’s views about Israel is a tremendous attack on academic freedom and civil liberties.