Progressive Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan Under Fire for Supporting Anti-BDS Legislation
By Ben Cohen
July 26, 2017
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New Hampshire Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan is under fire from fellow progressives over her support for the Anti-Israel Boycott Act currently making its way through Congress.
A former governor of New Hampshire, Hassan became the state’s junior senator in 2016 after she defeated Republican Kelly Ayotte in closely-fought contest. An important figurehead for the left-wing of her party, Hassan has won plaudits from progressives for her support of reproductive rights, stricter gun control and affordable higher education.
But by joining a bipartisan group of 45 other senators in co-sponsoring the anti-boycott act — introduced in March by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) — Hassan is now being accused by some civil rights activists of supporting a major abridgment of free speech.
The charge against Hassan has been led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has spent the last several months vocally opposing the proposed legislation — which would amend the 1979 Export Administration Act “to include in the prohibitions on boycotts against allies of the United States boycotts fostered by international governmental organizations against Israel.”
The ACLU, along with several groups from the BDS campaign targeting Israel, insists that the true aim of the act is to suppress boycott advocacy. “We urge you to refrain from co-sponsoring the legislation because it would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs,” the ACLU said in a July 17 letter to Hassan.
In an oped published the Concord Monitor, one BDS activist alleged that Hassan was backing legislation that “would make it a felony for Americans to support an international boycott against Israel.”
Last week, a spokeswoman for Hassan denied the bill could limit free speech as protected under the First Amendment.
“Senator Hassan strongly opposes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and believes that it harms efforts to secure enduring peace through bilateral negotiations toward a two-state solution,” Ricki Eshman, Hassan’s press secretary, said in a statement.
Hassan’s support for a political solution based on a sovereign state of Palestine alongside Israel has earned her the admiration of left-wing Jewish groups in the past. During last year’s election cycle, the leftist lobby group J Street warmly endorsed Hassan’s senate candidacy, praising her for supporting the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal and declaring that she “identifies closely with the core values of J Street and pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”
J Street has not, however, come to Hassan’s aid over the boycott controversy. The group firmly opposes the act, claiming that it would extend “US legal protections to illegal West Bank settlements.”
Jacob Millner — a senior policy analyst with the communications strategy group The Israel Project — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that Hassan “deserves to be commended for supporting a bill that fights back against the hateful and antisemitic BDS campaign.
“The bill does not in any way stifle free speech or prevent the expression of a certain point of view,” Millner said. “Rather, it regulates commercial activity.”
Millner pointed out the growing consensus among world leaders, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, that “equates BDS with antisemitism.” The ACLU bitterly opposes this conclusion, with one of its top leaders accusing Israel on July 3 of “exploiting” antisemitism “to encourage Jews to move to Israel.”