Senate is unlikely to debate BDS — so long as gov’t remains shut down

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Update: Earlier today we reported that the Senate will be debating the boycott of Israel tomorrow when a Senate bill comes to the floor containing “Middle East Security” provisions including a measure to punish those who call for boycotting Israel. That debate would divide Democrats, many of whom object to the legislation as a curb on free speech.

But reports from a couple of sources tonight indicate that the bill may not come to the Senate floor. Too many Democrats have indicated that they will block its progress until the first order of business, the government shutdown, is addressed. Jeff Stein of the Washington Post reports the names of 17 Democratic Senators who will stand in the way of the bill. That list includes at least two key supporters of the Israel boycott legislation, Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker, and one sponsor of it, Maryland’s Ben Cardin.

The Washington Post reports widespread support among Democrats to block the legislation.

Democrats are coalescing behind a plan to block any legislation on the floor that doesn’t reopen the federal government.

Privately, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told the rest of his caucus that he would vote against advancing the first bill on the Senate floor this year, a measure that would authorize security assistance to Israel and includes provisions aimed at promoting security in the Middle East.

Jeff Stein reported that even though it may hurt his pro-Israel credentials, Schumer is against the bill because of the optics of the shutdown, and under pressure from liberal groups.

“Minority Leader (D-NY) has started telling the caucus he will vote against the BDS sanctions bill because the government shutdown remains unresolved , , and a number of others pushed this strategy over the weekend.”

Original post: 

Something that has never happened before is about to happen in the U.S. Senate: there’s going to be a wide-open battle over Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), as part of efforts to end the government shutdown, no less!

Tomorrow the Senate is due to debate S.1, the first Senate bill of the new session, and it contains legislation to limit advocacy for BDS. And everyone is letting down their hair. Republicans are seeking to portray the Democrats as the party that is abandoning Israel, while many Democrats are already lining up against the bill as counter to American freedoms. They know the Democratic base is plainly against this bill, with Ayman Mohyeldin saying it violates our civil rights on MSNBC.

Bill sponsor Marco Rubio tweets today that “a significant #” of Democrats are for BDS:

The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill.

A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.

Rubio is right that establishment Dems don’t want this battle. NY Senator Chuck Schumer is reportedly out there working for the legislation, and Cory Booker is alone among Dem presidential likelys in being for it too. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman has slammed Booker as cynical for using the Pittsburgh massacre as his justification for seeking to crimp U.S. civil rights.

Bernie Sanders is leading opposition to the bill–though contrary to Rubio’s suggestion, he had never supported BDS:

It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.

Chris van Hollen of Maryland is clearly referring to Israel in this tweet:

Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government…

And as for Democrats who actually support BDS, the new congresswoman from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, says the Senate is thinking of Israel’s interests first.

They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.

The Intercept’s report on the legislation says the same thing. The Israel lobby wants this law:

according to multiple sources involved in the legislative process, S.1 will be a compendium containing a handful of foreign-policy related measures, a main one of which is a provision, with Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor, to defend the Israeli government. The bill is a top legislative priority for AIPAC.

The JTA says more about the Middle East Security bill:

[I]ncluded in Rubio’s bill is a version of a bill that languished in the last Congress that would establish federal legal protections for states passing laws divesting pension funds from groups that boycott Israel.

Last month Sanders and Dianne Feinstein wrote to the Senate leadership denouncing similar legislation of the last session.

While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government

Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights says that tomorrow will see “the first substantive debate on the Senate floor on the right to boycott,” with Rubio attempting to paint the Republican Party as the “saviors of Israel” and the Democrats as the party of boycott. In an email to followers today Ruebner reported on how this battle is shaping up, in statehouses and courthouses across the country:

Last Thursday, the Senate’s first bill of the new Congress – S.1 – was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and it encourages states to punish people for boycotting for Palestinian rights…

Sen. Rubio’s new bill incorporates language from the Combating BDS Act, his unconstitutional bill which we defeated in the last Congress.

The Combating BDS Act calls upon states and cities to enact laws that curtail our constitutional freedoms by denying government contracts to people who boycott for Palestinian rights. In response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU, these types of laws have already been stopped by federal judges in Kansas and Arizona on constitutional grounds, and there are three additional lawsuits currently challenging similar laws in Texas and Arkansas.

(Ruebner urges friends to call the Senate, with this message.)

The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald reported the sudden urgency of the Israel Anti-Boycott legislation on Saturday:

That the newly elected United States Congress would choose to prioritize protection of this foreign nation — at the expense of the Constitutional rights of American citizens and over countless bills that would help Americans — was only one of the stinging criticisms voiced to the Intercept by ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kathleen Ruane: “In the midst of a partial government shutdown, Democratic and Republican senators have decided that one of their first orders of business next week should be to sneak through a bill that would weaken Americans’ First Amendment protections.”

So tune in tomorrow. We’ve always said that the issue of Palestinian human rights needs to be discussed in the central forums of US politics. Now it’s finally happening!

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Gee, nothing about this on the news channels…

I contacted Rubio’s office and told a woman named Gabby why I wanted him to vote NO on the Combatting BDS Act, which was snuck into the Senate Bill #1. When I called Scott on the number given, I was told he does not have a number as a senator… Read more »

Besides Cory Booker, cosponsor of S 720 (115th Congress), a couple of less known Democratic 2020 hopefuls have anti-BDS records. Maryland Congressman John Delaney is listed as a cosponsor of HR 1697, the House companion bill of S 720. And in March Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 16-1284 which requires… Read more »

Phil, please tell Ruebner we can’t reach Florida governor Scott on the phone number he gives because if you call that number, they will tell you it is the number of a federal surgeon’s office. If you call Scott at his governor’s number, they won’t take any message about what… Read more »

Sen. Booker is a day late and a dollar short if he thinks supporting this bill against the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Senate and House instead of reopening the government is going to get him closer to the White House. It won’t. He and his bought and paid for… Read more »