On July 23, the House overwhelmingly passed H.Res. 246, a resolution that condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Now lawmakers are pushing for a vote on legislation that would provide legal cover for states that attempt to criminalize supporters of the boycott.
H.R.336 is the House companion to S.1, the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019. That bill was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in January and passed the Senate 77-23 a month later. S.1 incorporates four different bills that almost passed in a previous congressional session and one of them is the Combating BDS Act. The act doesn’t actually penalize individuals or companies for boycotting Israel, but it effectively authorizes state and local governments to pass laws that block the state from doing business with entities that boycott Israel. Despite the fact that multiple courts have deemed that these laws violate the First Amendment, Rubio’s bill would offer a certain level of protection from any constitutional challenge.
Critics of H.Res. 246 believed that it would inevitably be used as a means to push anti-BDS bills that are much more severe. Any Democrat who publicly condemned BDS would be framed as a hypocrite if they failed to vote for bills that actually penalize BDS supporters, according to this logic.
“The resolution is a far-reaching, unambiguous indictment of anyone who boycotts Israel,” tweeted Foundation for Middle East Peace President Lara Friedman before the bill was passed. “Folks who support it are in effect legitimizing the same simplistic narrative that is being used to justify laws quashing free speech…Folks who support it are going to be called hypocrites if they subsequently vote against legislation trying to fight what they have in effect labeled an evil scourge.”
Friedman’s prediction became a reality almost immediately after the vote. Yesterday, just two days after the anti-BDS resolution passed by 398-17, GOP Representatives began rising in Congress to push H.R.336. Here’s Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) calling for “real action” against the “hateful BDS movement”:
H.Res. 246, voted on this week, echoes many resolutions that I have broadly supported…This week the majority leadership took the path of least resistance from its far left members by putting on the floor another resolution to condemn anti-semitism, but refusing to debate legislation with the teeth necessary to push back against the hateful BDS Movement. Support of Israel has long enjoyed bipartisan consensus, and real action against the BDS Movement must be taken…
H.R. 336 imposes direct and concrete penalties on the BDS Movement by allowing state and local governments to adopt laws to divest public funds from groups or organizations that is boycott Israel… By passing H.R. 336, this House would send a clear message that the BDS Movement’s anti-semitic messages and actions will be met with firm consequences in the United States. It is important that we stand in opposition to the BDS Movement and stand with our strongest ally in the Middle East. We must reject the BDS Movement with the full force of law and continue to support Israel as the major strategic partner that this body has long enshrined in our laws, our policy priorities, and our hearts and minds.
Here’s Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK):
This bill includes many critical provisions but most important sections of this bill is Combating BDS Act of 2019, which would allow a state or local government to adopt measures to divest assets from entities using boycotts, divestments, or sanctions to influence Israel’s policies. Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the House passed H.Res. 246, a non-binding resolution opposing [BDS]. And while I appreciate the House’s action in passing that resolution, we can do better in opposing this heinous practice than simply passing a non-binding resolution. Actions speak louder than words. We cannot just say we believe in something, we must do something. H.R. 336 would do something, it would allow a state or local government to stand with us in defense of Israel.
And here’s Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY):
I rise in opposition to the rule urge my colleagues to defeat the previous question so that the House may take up H.R. 336, a bipartisan legislative package that would help fight back against the BDS Movement, protect U.S. Security in the Middle East by strengthening our alliance was Israel and Jordan, and sanctioning nefarious actors like Assad. The Senate version of this bill (S. 1) passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 77-23 in the Senate. Surprisingly the major point of contention for this package is the Combating BDS Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that garnered over 100 co-sponsors last Congress, that would help combat the BDS Movement….
Thankfully this week the House passed House Resolution 246, a resolution to forcefully condemn the BDS Movement. Making a strong statement is great and should be celebrated. But we should wake up the next morning asking ourselves, challenging each other to what we can do about it….There were 350 co-sponsors on the statement that was made earlier this week. There were nearly 400 votes on the House floor. Republicans and Democrats worked together through a process from drafting the legislation, to getting the bill marked up in committee, to passing on the House floor, and we should celebrate making a great statement. Now we should be passing a bill with teeth. We could do it right now and if this bill gets added to the voting before we leave here this week, I guarantee it passes. So, not only did we earlier this week make a strong statement to combat the anti-Israel, anti-semitic BDS Movement, but we woke up the next day motivated to actually challenge ourselves to do something about it and we got it done.
Despite the fact that only sixteen Democrats voted against the resolution, Rubio has publicly declared that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is purposely blocking the legislation in fear of a “radical anti-Semitic minority” in the Democratic Party. In a speech at the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit earlier this month, Rubio specifically cited Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as the major reason the bill has been held up:
And then the election happened in 2016 and a handful of new people came in and all of a sudden these people begin to oppose the BDS legislation and, in fact, go further in some of their sayings…one of them claimed that the reason we care about Israel is because of “The Benjamins”, meaning the money; an old antisemitic smear that’s been used in the past. And for whatever reason it was the first bill we took up this year in the Senate and all of a sudden it was controversial. All of a sudden, I had numerous colleagues of mine on the Democratic side come to me and beg me, “Can you take the BDS stuff out of the bill? We love the other stuff that’s in it, just take the BDS stuff out” and I’m like, “what are you talking about? We were all for this just three months ago, what happened? And what happened is that there’s a growing strain in American politics that supports the BDS movement. Now they’ll tell you, “No we don’t, it’s about free speech.” That’s a farce. It’s a farce.
The push for a federal bill that emboldens local anti-BDS measures comes at a time when twenty-seven states have already adopted regulations that target BDS supporters. Last year a speech pathologist in Texas named Bahia Amawi lost her job after she refused to sign an oath declaring that she wouldn’t boycott Israel. That oath became part of Amawi’s contract as a result of a state anti-BDS bill that was signed into law during 2017.
Amawi sued the state with the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). A federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional and temporarily blocked it. Shortly after that ruling, Texas amended the law so that it only applies to state contracts with companies that have more than 10 employees and do business of over $100,000. It’s unclear why the new version would suddenly be considered constitutional, and the lawsuit is still ongoing as CAIR is trying to strike down the law entirely.
Although Rubio’s bill passed in the Senate, Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris all voted against it. Even Cory Booker, who has supported various anti-BDS measures, voted against the bill.