Left pushes back against last-minute effort to pass anti-BDS bill

Congress is debating whether to attach the law to must-pass spending legislation this month that will keep the government open.

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December 20, 2018 01:58
2 minute read.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending U.S. military sup

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending U.S. military support for the war in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)

 
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While Democratic leadership supports the Israel Anti-Boycott Act – which targets US companies that join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state – two powerful senators in the Democratic party expressed their opposition to its passage on Wednesday.

Congress is debating whether to attach the law to must-pass spending legislation this month to keep the government open – a common tactic used by congressional leadership to clean up the legislative docket and pass controversial bills. The Senate passed a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) on Wednesday night that did not include the anti-BDS measure, or any other major legislation.

The legislation, introduced by Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in the Senate and Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Peter Roskam (R-IL) in the House, has undergone several revisions after the American Civil Liberties Union warned that it would infringe on one’s right to protest. Those revisions have led several Democratic lawmakers to sign on its passage, making it a bipartisan effort, with most Republicans supporting the bill.

J Street, a liberal advocacy organization that seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opposed the bill and praised Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) for speaking out on Wednesday.

“While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the rights of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government,” the senators wrote. “This bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

J Street characterized the bill as “misguided.” The anti-boycott bill “would do nothing to help strengthen Israel’s security or effectively combat BDS,” the group said. They added that “it would alienate many of the supporters Israel needs most.”

The New York Times also expressed disapproval of the bill this week, and wrote on Wednesday that such a bill “aims to punish those who boycott Israel over its settlement policy,” adding that “there are better solutions.”


But the Jewish Democratic Council of America recently endorsed the bill as “consistent” with the 2016 Democratic Party’s platform.

“The bill will extend existing US legal protections which protects companies from coercion by foreign countries to participate in boycotts of Israel to include protection from boycotts led by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations,” the group stated. “We support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, as amended, and urge passage of this legislation during the 115th Congress. We are encouraging JDCA members to write to their Member of Congress to support passage of the bill by the end of the year.”

Christians United for Israel, one of the nation’s largest Israel advocacy organizations also consider the passage of this measure to be their top priority as the year comes to a close.
A minority of Democratic senators have cosponsored the act. But if it were attached to this year’s spending bill, senators would not have to vote on the contents of the bill itself, but rather decide whether their opposition to it warranted voting against funding the government.

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