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Republicans push BDS bill to paint Dems as anti-Semites, and party leadership falls for the trap

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On Wednesday, Republicans in the House initiated a rarely-used legislative procedure to try to force a vote on a controversial bill that encourages states and localities to penalize individuals, nonprofit organizations, and companies that boycott for Palestinian rights.

The legislative procedure, known as a “discharge petition”, was filed by Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and supported by Republican leadership in the House, as well as the only two Jewish members of the GOP House caucus, Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

If such a petition receives 218 signatures (a majority of the 435 voting Representatives), then it is “discharged” from consideration by the committee or committees assigned jurisdiction over the bill and brought to the floor for a vote. The procedure is a rarity because it requires at least some of the majority party to upend the legislative priorities of its leadership and instead join forces with the minority party.

Mast is attempting to bring to a vote H.R.336, the companion bill to S.1, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and passed by the Senate in February by a 77-23 vote. The bill, which authorizes military aid for Israel and Jordan and imposes additional sanctions on the Assad regime in Syria, also contains the controversial Combating BDS Act, a measure which failed to pass during the two previous congressional sessions.

The Combating BDS Act encourages states and local governments to pass laws prohibiting government contacts with anyone who does not sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath pledging not to boycott for Palestinian rights. Judges in Texas, Arizona, and Kansas have ruled these laws to be violations of the First Amendment and the American Civil Liberties Union called the bill “unconstitutional”.

Mast’s discharge petition has quickly gathered support, but The Hill reported that “there is no indication that House Democrats will buck their own leadership and join the GOP effort.” To date, first-term Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) is the only Democrat on record to consider signing. As of yesterday, the Clerk of the House reported that 177 Republicans had signed the discharge petition. No Democrats have signed it yet.

However, even if the GOP is unable to peel off enough Democrats to force a vote, legislation opposing boycotts for Palestinian rights appears to remain high on the Congressional agenda thanks to pro-Israel Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

Rather than assert the First Amendment right to boycott for Palestinian rights free of governmental condemnation, interference, or penalty, much less acknowledge the valid reasons why people boycott for Palestinian freedom, justice, and equality, Hoyer now seems intent on shepherding through the House an AIPAC-backed resolution opposing the BDS movement.

“I expect to be moving something out of the [House Foreign Affairs] Committee in the relatively near future,” Hoyer said Wednesday in a press briefing. “My inclination is to put it on the floor, yes, but I want to see what the committee does first before I make that decision,” he added.

A spokesperson for Hoyer confirmed to Mondoweiss that the legislation he referred to is H.Res.246, introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) in March and supported currently by 256 other Representatives. In addition to formally putting Congress on the record as being opposed to boycotts for Palestinian rights, the resolution also opposes “all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel”, a phrase often utilized to equate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.

Perhaps Hoyer is holding out hope that if he passes a non-binding resolution which has widespread Democratic support, rather than acceding to Republican demands to bring up a controversial anti-boycott bill that split the Senate Democratic caucus in half, that Republican clamoring for the House to pass anti-boycott legislation will die down. Hoyer is mistaken, however.

This latest GOP stratagem is not an isolated legislative maneuver, but part of an ongoing, concerted effort to blur the lines between and conflate criticism of the Israeli government and advocacy for Palestinian rights with hatred of and bigotry toward Jewish people. By doing so, Republicans are trying to portray themselves as the saviors of Israel and the Jewish people and paint the Democrats as an anti-Semitic, BDS-loving, radical left horde.

This would be risible if it did not have such serious repercussions. The GOP’s incessant Islamophobic incitement against Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have spurred death threats against the first Muslim Congresswomen, who also happen to be the first Members of Congress to support boycotts for Palestinian rights. It is no coincidence that the two feature prominently directly or indirectly in the dozens of social media posts by Republicans in support of the discharge petition.

In one such typical, egregious Facebook post, Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) blamed Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for letting “open anti-Semites like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib control the U.S. House.” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) accused Pelosi of not bringing up H.R.336 for a vote because she “wants to shield the radical anti-Israel elements of her party.”

And Mast, the petition’s sponsor, argued that “with the resurgence of anti-Semitism happening right now, the American people deserve to know whether their elected Representatives have the courage to stand up against the extreme anti-Israel factions trying to force their will on the House of Representatives.”

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) are the highest ranking leaders of the GOP pushing the discharge petition. Their posturing as front-line defenders against the scourge of anti-Semitism is particularly galling in light of the former’s anti-Semitic dog whistling and the latter’s dalliance with white supremacists, underscoring the crass hypocrisy of the GOP posing as champions of Jewish people, most especially in the Trump era when the president’s embrace of white nationalism has encouraged deadly synagogue shootings.

“BDS is the gift that keeps on giving for the GOP,” states Lara Friedman of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, “and will remain so until Democrats find the courage to stop punching left and recognize boycotts of Israel and settlements as legitimate free speech that they unapologetically defend.”

This is a lesson that seems to be lost on Hoyer. If he allows a vote on a resolution condemning boycotts of Israel, then the GOP will only ratchet up its pressure to pass more onerous legislation penalizing BDS supporters. And if the Democrats continue to refuse to pass H.R.336, then the GOP will surely make hay of the Democrats’ feckless hypocrisy in rhetorically condemning BDS but refusing to do anything substantive to shut it down. The only way for the Democrats to avoid this GOP trap is by not playing their game.

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner is Senior Principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books).

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22 Responses

  1. Citizen on May 17, 2019, 12:28 pm

    By conflating criticism of Israel with Jew Hate, the pro-Israel forces seek to stifle support of Palestinian basic rights under the First Amendment. For the Democrat leadership the practical issue is, do we stand more for strong constitutional free speech or as tempered by its “hate speech” limits? Remember the neo-Nazi march in Skokie? Unfortunately, said leadership is reminded more often, in fact daily, that the Democrat Party is funded mostly by Jewish donors.

  2. eljay on May 17, 2019, 3:32 pm

    … In one such typical, egregious Facebook post, Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) blamed Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for letting “open anti-Semites like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib control the U.S. House.” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) accused Pelosi of not bringing up H.R.336 for a vote because she “wants to shield the radical anti-Israel elements of her party.” …

    It’s sad enough to watch American politicians tripping over themselves and each other to pledge as much loyalty as possible to America Israel.

    But it is truly pathetic when they resort to anti-Semitically conflating Israel with all Jews just so they can they further prove their loyalty to America Israel by smearing with destructive accusations of anti-Semitism fellow Americans they feel are insufficiently loyal to America Israel.

  3. DaBakr on May 17, 2019, 5:06 pm

    The problem is jew-hate and anti zionism are already conflated by many on the far left. This has left the anti zionists who claim to have no feelings of anti Jewishness on the defensive. I read that most democrats in the US are not even familiar with bds

    • eljay on May 17, 2019, 7:18 pm

      || @Ba: The problem is jew-hate and anti zionism are already conflated by many on the far left. ||

      The problem with the anti-Semitic conflation of all Jews with Jewish supremacism (Zionism) and with Israel as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” is that it isn’t limited to the far left (or right). Every Zionist – and even many (most? all?) pro-Zionists – routinely engage in this anti-Semitic conflation.

      I don’t understand why Zionists (and pro-Zionists) hate Jews so much.

      • DaBakr on May 17, 2019, 9:53 pm


        I get your general position but wondering why “zionists hate jews…” is not true. It’s just a rhetorical trick. but ok, I get why your extrapolating

      • echinococcus on May 17, 2019, 11:58 pm


        “The problem with the anti-Semitic conflation of all Jews with Jewish supremacism (Zionism)”
        How’s that? Jewish mythical-racial supremacism is not coterminous with Zionism (its most aggressive form); in particular, it has been part and parcel of the religious teaching for ages.

        “and with Israel as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State””
        which is explicitly not religion-supremacist, as it declares to be the supremacist state of all “Jews” by (certified matrilineal) heredity including the publicly certified aththe eists/non-religious. This is the very textbook example of racial supremacism. Yet you continue to totally ignore all objections. Ignored facts don’t simply go away.

        “is that it isn’t limited to the far left (or right)”
        What do you imagine as a “far left” that would accommodate racism?

        “Every Zionist – and even many (most? all?) pro-Zionists – routinely engage in this anti-Semitic conflation.”

        Zionist must do this as their only justification for existing is the myth of “anti-Semitism”; that is not a good reason for sharing the “anti-Semitism” myth.

        That “conflation” (mainly by victims of Zionism) which irritates you so much is based on obvious evidence of support for the political movement called Zionism by the overwhelming majority of all organizations specifically designed by and for persons calling themselves Jewish for one reason or another. It won’t go away by inveighing against it. Sometimes it’s a good idea to check declarations of principle against facts. They show that, albeit not coterminous, the two things are not clearly separate except in the realm of theory.

      • eljay on May 18, 2019, 5:59 pm

        || @Daa: @ej

        I get your general position but wondering why “zionists hate jews…” is not true. … ||

        But it is true. You Zionists routinely and anti-Semitically conflate…
        – your hateful and immoral ideology;
        – your colonialist and religion-supremacist construct; and
        – the (war) criminal actions of both of the above,
        …with all Jews in order to justify the evil you advocate, commit, support and/or defend and to “human shield” yourselves from the repercussions.

        With “friends” like Zionists, Jews don’t need any enemies.

    • Misterioso on May 18, 2019, 9:30 am


      Realizing that their religion has been hijacked by fascistic Zionism, ever increasing numbers of Jews are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians.

  4. just on May 17, 2019, 6:08 pm

    This appeared in The Guardian today. Joshua Leifer:

    “Democrats are finally getting wise to Republicans’ antisemitism smears

    The leadership’s firm response to attacks on Rashida Tlaib stand in contrast to their equivocation over Ilhan Omar. Democrats must fight back against divide and conquer tactics …

    Of course, seasoned establishment politicians such as Pelosi and Hoyer rarely make such dramatic pivots purely out of the goodness of their own hearts. They also appear to be feeling the pressure from the Democratic party’s activist base, which for the most part has vigorously defended Omar and Tlaib from both Republicans and centrist Democrats’ attacks.

    Hoyer himself is facing a 2020 primary challenger from the left: McKayla Wilkes, a 28-year-old mother of two and supporter of Medicare for All, who criticized Hoyer for failing to condemn Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians during the latest round of violence in Gaza. Even if Wilkes does not defeat Hoyer, her campaign has already made an impact. If there was any doubt, competition works.

    But while statements like Pelosi and Hoyer’s are a good start, they are far from enough. The Democratic leadership must more assertively call attention to how the Republicans’ use of false accusations of antisemitism is meant to distract from the growing racist and antisemitic white nationalist tendencies within the Republican party.

    Representatives Omar and Schakowsky set a powerful example of how to do this in a recent op-ed that charged President Trump with normalizing and emboldening white nationalism – through his rhetoric as well as his administration’s decision to shut down federal programs designed to combat right-wing extremism. More forcefully challenging the right’s weaponization of false antisemitism accusations will enable Democrats and their supporters to more effectively identify and combat real antisemitism whenever it rears its ugly head.

    And not only that. For years, fear of accusations of antisemitism – and the backlash those accusations could spark – has prevented the Democrats from standing up to successive far-right Netanyahu governments in Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. (Though, of course, that is not the only reason; leading Democrats such as Pelosi and Hoyer never miss an Aipac conference, and they have been rewarded handsomely for their loyalty.) But this has put the Democratic leadership increasingly at odds with its base, most of whom are repulsed by the strong ties between Trump, Netanyahu, and other far-right leaders around the world, including those prone to antisemitic comments and gestures, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. …

    The right is undergoing a process of extremization at breakneck speed—and not only around issues of race and foreign policy, but also gender equality, women’s rights, environmental justice, and more. The right’s strategy is one of divide and conquer—to sow tension and mistrust between various parts of the left-liberal coalition, between Jews and Muslims, working-class whites and African Americans.

    The Republicans’ consistent use of outrageous, false accusations of antisemitism, especially against prominent women of color like representatives Omar and Tlaib, is a central part of that strategy. Fighting back against this as hard as possible this is not only what Democrats must do if they want to defeat Trump, the Republicans, and the surging white nationalist movement; it is the right thing to do, too.”

    much more @

    • Kay24 on May 18, 2019, 7:13 am

      When in came to Omar and Tlaib, many Democrats made AIPAC proud by attacking them unnecessarily too. Until politicians have the spine and common sense to differentiate “anti semitism” from criticism of a nation or a lobby, that looks after the interest of that nation first, there is no hope for this country.

  5. echinococcus on May 17, 2019, 7:30 pm

    “party leadership falls for the trap”

    What immortal propaganda crap of the very best vintage! Keep this article title for a museum.

    Who do you think your goddam Dim Party belongs to, if not to the Owners of the Country (aka the US imperial monopoly capital, including the Zionist leadership)?

    The trap is that of pretending that such a “party” can possibly change its action and policy against the owners’ interest. A diabolic trap set to catch the voting booby and manned by the gullible Dim peon who not only is selling that myth to the people but also believes it himself.

    “Party leaderships” don’t change away from their owners’ interest, same as for the supposedly dumber twin of that “party”. Both can only be Zionist, no matter what some no-account low-level figure wants.

  6. RoHa on May 18, 2019, 12:32 am

    OT, but, in case you haven’t noticed (and there is no reason why you should have), today we are voting in a federal election. This means that we might throw out the current bunch of incompetent, idiotic, slime balls, and replace them with a bunch of slimy, incompetent, idiots.

    Either way, do not expect it to make any difference in the ME.

  7. brent on May 18, 2019, 10:02 am

    BDS, standing alone is unlikely to have a positive outcome. A couple of problems. Without one authority, essentially a “one gun” policy and a disciplined commitment to non-violence, where lone wolves are criticized, Israel will be successfully characterized as a victim. Also, the confusion of recognition, co-exist or replace, is an issue hanging.

  8. klm90046 on May 18, 2019, 4:28 pm

    There’s a lot of make-up-as-you-go-alongism in all of this. Monday we are told we are free to criticize Israel’s policies, but not Israel as the Jewish state. Tuesday, we’re told to choose our words carefully so as to avoid historically anti-Semitic “tropes.” Wednesday they say criticizing Israel is hidden anti-Semitism. Thursday to Sunday, if we criticize Israel, we must, in the same breath, also point out the inequities in Saudi Arabia, China, Myanmar and thirty-seven other places.

    Instead of legislating against BDS, maybe our lawmakers should set aside one day a month when Americans may uphold the First Amendment.

  9. just on May 18, 2019, 7:18 pm

    Great comment! Thanks, klm90046.

  10. James Canning on May 19, 2019, 12:48 pm

    Suppressing free speech in the US, to facilitate further oppression of the Palestinians by illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, would be damaging to Israel’s own true best interests.

  11. Sulphurdunn on May 19, 2019, 6:47 pm

    It’s not 1990 anymore. The triangulating old guard of the Democratic Party needs to step up or step aside.

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    • Eva Smagacz on May 27, 2019, 3:00 pm

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      Not perfect, but obviously slipped through WordPress filters.

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      • echinococcus on May 27, 2019, 7:47 pm

        Not perfect, as you say, but at the very least not yet another piece of Zionist or collaborationist skulduggery. Those painkillers are way less objectionable than the usual pain-in-the-neck.

  13. echinococcus on May 20, 2019, 2:02 pm

    “The triangulating old guard of the Democratic Party needs to step up or step aside.”

    That sentence , now, is trapezoidalling or even pentagonating. The old and new guards are the same class — the whole Democratic Party must drop dead. Yesterday. Its equally evil twin, too.

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