In a Huffington Post interview published on June 5, U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker announced that he now supports a federal anti-BDS bill, which would allow states to punish contractors for boycotting Israel. Booker voted against similar legislation earlier this year.
In February, the Senate voted on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), a piece of legislation that was introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) James Risch (R-ID) Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The final section of the bill is called The Combating BDS Act and it would allow local and state governments to “divest from entities that engage in certain Boycott, Divestment, or Sanctions activities targeting Israel or persons doing business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.”
The bill passed in the Senate 77-23, but almost every Democratic presidential candidate in the Senate voted against it. Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, California’s Kamala Harris, and New Jersey’s Cory Booker all released statements to Haaretz making it clear that they’re against boycotts of Israel and opposed the bill for First Amendment reasons. New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand voted against the bill, but never responded to the request for comment. Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar was the only Senator running for president who voted for the legislation, but she also did not provide an explanation.
In his statement, Booker alluded to his history of fighting against BDS. “I have a strong and lengthy record of opposing efforts to boycott Israel, as evidenced by my cosponsorship of S. 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” said Booker, “However, this specific piece of legislation contains provisions that raise serious First Amendment concerns, and that’s why I voted against it. I drafted an amendment to help address these widely-held concerns, but there was no amendment process offered to allow for this bill to be improved. There are ways to combat BDS without compromising free speech, and this bill as it currently stands plainly misses the mark.”
Despite opposing this act just four months ago, Booker recently reiterated his support for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which is designed to have the same impact as The Combating BDS Act. He was originally a cosponsor of the bill (as he mentioned) and any subsequent reservations have seemingly been assuaged by the fact Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) amended the legislation last year to allegedly remove any First Amendment violations. However, critics point out that the bill remains unconstitutional despite the changes. “Senator Cardin has been struggling to pass this legislation, first sneaking it into other legislation before it was ruled out of procedure, and most recently by making amendments in an attempt to buy the consent of those with free speech concerns,” said Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights Yousef Munayyer at the time.
Booker told the Huffington Post:
I voted against the anti-BDS bill that I thought was an assault on first amendment rights. I support the [current] bill because, again, as a guy who knows a little bit about constitutional law and I know there are people who disagree with me — that is not, it actually protects American companies from being forced by foreign international organizations from complying with things that they shouldn’t have to comply with.”
I do not support BDS. To me, I think, there are elements in the BDS movement that want to destroy the state of Israel, that are engaged in things that will undermine Israel’s ability to survive, to exist, to protect itself. Israel is a democratic ally of ours in a region that is surrounded by nations, many of them who are doing things to suppress minorities, violate rights in a way that should be calling on all of us to say, ‘Look what you are doing to your minorities, to gays and lesbians, look what you are doing to women.’ But yet people seem to be focused on a state that is a democratic state, that has Muslims on its Supreme Court, Muslims in its legislature. And I support the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself.
But I also support the rights of Palestinians — the human rights of the Palestinians… this administration is pulling back the resources necessary, pulling back a commitment to a two-state solution — because just as much as the Israelis have a right to self-determination, so do Palestinians. But I am sorry, this BDS movement is something that I do not support, and I think that we should do what we can to protect American companies, and other Americans, from being attacked in a way that undermines their ability to stand up for what they believe is right. That is where I stand.
In March, The Intercept published a leaked recording from a meeting between Cory Booker and members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In that recording, Booker says he wants to establish a “unified voice from Congress” to oppose BDS.
Just a few days before Booker’s interview was published, New York City Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio told a NYC radio station, “New York City stands with Israel. We say, ‘Yes to Israel.’ We say, ‘No to BDS.’”
Mondoweiss reached out to the presidential campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden for a comment on anti-BDS legislation but they didn’t respond by the time of this piece’s publication.