The Senate is once again debating boycott against Israel today, in a sign that Middle East policy is politicized as never before.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday, 76 to 22, to proceed forward on S.1, a bill sponsored by Marco Rubio– and AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group– that encourages states to adopt measures to financially punish “entities using boycotts, divestments, or sanctions to influence Israel’s policies.”
The anti-BDS language is an unconstitutional limitation of free speech, the ACLU has said; state laws aimed at crushing BDS have already cost employment to a number of people of good faith who are opposed to Israeli policies.
The good news is that progressive Democrats drew a line in the sand, and presidential hopefuls voted against the procedural vote. Even though no Senator has come out in support of BDS, many have acknowledged the right of their constituents to counter Israeli actions. In a long speech opposing the bill, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in its overreach, the bill will fuel the BDS movement because Americans will insist on their right to “peacefully” protest the Netanyahu government.
“Just about every single Senator considering a 2020 run voted no. Democrats most in tune with their base have drawn a clear red line that repressive laws targeting Palestinian rights activism in violation of he first amendment are unacceptable,” Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights comments. Though he adds: “The real scandal here is that there are 76 Senators that are willing to trample on the Constitution they swore to defend.”
The 22 No votes were all Democrats. The hopefuls are (or are thought to be) Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren.
One notable exception is Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who voted Yes.
While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity. It is clear to me that S.1 would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.
Kamala Harris was a bit of a surprise, given her fulsome speech to AIPAC last year saying she opposed all delegitimization of Israel. Adalah-NY notes that even “the strongly anti-Palestinian Booker and Harris” voted against. Jake Tapper:
Sen. Harris said she will likely vote against it because of her First Amendment concerns about the part of it involving BDS, which she said she opposes…Sen. Harris added that since the BDS part of the Senate bill won’t be in the House version she says GOPers are playing politics to try to make Democrats who support Israel look otherwise.
Kirsten Gillibrand voted no. She had been for similar legislation but changed her mind last year after town hall rose up against her. US Campaign for Palestinian Rights:
In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has formally withdrawn her sponsorship of S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Senator Gillibrand’s withdrawal comes after pressure from constituents who repeatedly questioned her support for the bill at recent town halls in New York City, concerned about its threat to the civil liberties of Americans and to the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. Senator Gillibrand’s withdrawal marks one of the few times a member of Congress has removed their name from a bill supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Tammy Baldwin of WI wrote:
I have always opposed BDS activities and will continue to do so. I support security aid to Israel and Syria sanctions, but
#S1 overturns 50 years of bipartisan US policy and threatens a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Chuck Schumer and other stalwarts of the Israel lobby voted to advance the bill after helping stop it during the shutdown.
The day was notable for Van Hollen’s long speech against the legislation. Shibley Telhami called it “extraordinary.” Max Blumenthal says, “It was filled with irritating liberal Zionist qualifiers. But still worth seeing it as where the winds blowing.”
The Maryland senator said the laws are blatantly unconstitutional and will be overturned by courts, and thus will strengthen “the very boycott movement that we seek to oppose. It [the legislation] hurts Israel, it hurts the United States.”
Here’s Van Hollen’s argument that the bill and Trump policy are a boon for BDS:
I predict that the boycott movement will continue to grow for a number of reasons. At the top of the list is the fact that the Trump administration’s actions and inaction are adding oxygen to the boycott movement. To start, the Trump administration has abandoned any pretense of trying to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements in new parts of the West Banks. There has been a big jump in the number of tenders and settlement plans since President Trump took office. In fact, our ambassador there, Ambassador Friedman, has been a vocal cheerleader for additional settlements in the West Bank….
The Trump administration under the guidance of the president’s designated Middle East senior advisor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has embarked on an undisguised effort to crush the Palestinians by revoking all U.S. humanitarian assistance… many of whom are living in horrible conditions… The effort to crush the Palestinians into submitting to a one-sided agreement will never work. President Trump and Jared Kushner apparently think this is just another real estate deal where you turn off the water and electricity to force your tenants out. Instead, these actions by the Trump administration will only add fuel to the boycott movement because many people will see no other vehicle for expressing their views.
Nothing– nothing– will motivate Americans to exercise their rights more than efforts to suppress them. Trying to suppress free speech, even unpopular speech, even conduct that we don’t support here… that will only add momentum …. [for] American citizens who may want to peacefully demonstrate their opposition to some of the Netanyahu government’s policies.. in a way they have a right to do…
One takeaway on yesterday’s debate is that the line is moving on Palestine in the Senate; and the principled opposition to the bill and AIPAC raises the issue, Why not be for BDS yourself, you profile in courage? Ali Abunimah is both impassioned and logical:
Why don’t you support BDS? What moral or logical reason could you have to oppose nonviolent civil society action and boycotts, like those used by the US Civil Rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement? Aren’t Palestinians humans too?
This is no longer enough. If Palestinians have rights that are being violated, something
@SenSanders does not deny, why can’t they use boycotts and other nonviolent tactics to win their rights, like US Civil Rights movement and anti-apartheid movement?
There is certainly some hairsplitting among the Democratic opposition in demonstrating their love for Israel. Van Hollen said that senators used a bill intended to demonstrate our support for Israel to drive a wedge between Democrats who support Israel and those who really really support Israel. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy:
I don’t support BDS. I don’t support forcing public employees to sign loyalty pledges to anyone in order to do their job. I don’t support allowing Republicans to politicize support for Israel by pushing needlessly divisive bills. None of these are inconsistent w each other.
J Street helped build opposition to the bill as unconstitutional, but it retweeted van Hollen’s line that the bill supports the same punishment for someone who advocates boycotting a business in Tel Aviv as it does those who advocate boycott of commerce with the settlements, including with illegal outposts. J Street says it thereby endangers the two-state solution by “erasing the distinction between Israel and West Bank settlements — undermining hopes for peace.”
Here is some of the rage being expressed toward the Senate legislation by leftists and liberty-lovers:
You swore an oath to uphold the US Constitution. Why do you oppose a peaceful tactic which Americans also used to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa, and which is 1st Amendment protected? pic.twitter.com/VfHWW3YLcr
— Mike Flugennock (@flugennock) January 28, 2019
And Yousef Munayyer has a piece in the Washington Post saying that all Senators support the tool of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions when it is aimed at other targets. “When politicians say the oppose Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestinian human rights despite supporting these tactics for many other rights, what they are saying is they don’t support Palestinian human rights.”
Thanks to Dave Reed, Annie Robbins, and Adam Horowitz.