Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has become the fifteenth House member to cosponsor H.Res.496, a resolution affirming that Americans have the right to boycott foreign countries to advance the cause of human rights.
The legislation was introduced last month by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and although the text doesn’t specifically mention Israel or Palestine at all, Omar has made it clear that it was developed in response to the recent proliferation bills that target the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (also known as BDS). “We are introducing a resolution … to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our first amendment rights in regard to boycotting,” she said shortly before the bill’s introduction, “And it is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”
Gabbard became a cosponsor just one week after she voted for H.Res.246, a resolution that doesn’t penalize supporters of BDS like other legislation, but condemns the movement and effectively tags it as antisemitic. Only seventeen House members voted against the measure, sixteen of them Democrats. Multiple Democratic lawmakers (including Gabbard, California Rep. Ro Khanna, and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley) felt compelled to make public statements justifying their YES votes, presumably because of the strong online backlash they received. Gabbard posted a video on her website explaining the vote and touting her support for Omar’s resolution:
Some of you have sent me messages and posted on social media asking for more information about why I voted for the way I did on a recent resolution talking about BDS so I wanted to give you some background and talk to you about my commitment to defending our First Amendment rights.
Nothing is more fundamental to the identity of our country than the rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our Constitution. Now I’ve fought to defend these freedoms both as a solider and as a congresswoman and it’s why we’ll continue to oppose unconstitutional legislation like S.1 [the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019], a bill that does restrict free speech by imposing legal penalties against those who participate in the BDS movement. That’s why I cosponsored H.Res.496, to affirm our freedom of speech and right to protest or boycott for any cause as well as stating opposition to any legislative efforts that seek to restrict these fundamental First Amendment rights.
Now I voted for H.Res. 246 because I support a two-state solution that provides for the rights of both Israel and Palestine to exist and for their people to live in peace with security in their homes. I don’t believe BDS is the way to accomplish that. However, I will continue to defend those who choose to exercise their right to free speech without any threat of legal action. Now H.Res.246 does not in any way limit or hinder our First Amendment rights. In fact, it affirms every American’s right to exercise free speech for or against U.S. foreign policy, as well as the right of Israeli and Palestinian people to live in safe and sovereign states free from fear and violence and with mutual recognition. The right to protest the actions of our government is essential if America is to truly be a free society. So no matter what our disagreements are about various political positions or choices that our government makes, we can all agree that every American should have the freedom to make those disagreements known and protest peacefully in support of their views.
Despite the fact that there’s been a lot of media coverage focusing on the growing rift over Israel that’s developing in the Democratic Party, there was not one question about Israel or Palestine during this week’s debates. On a recent episode of Peter Beinart’s Occupied Thoughts podcast he pointed out that this will probably change soon. “If you think about the 2016 campaign,” said Beinart, “I think it was really when they got to the New York primary (surprise surprise) that you had the most significant debate about Israel so I imagine as you get towards that with the larger Jewish constituencies, it will come up.”
This certainly isn’t the first time Gabbard has sent seemingly mixed messages on the subject of Israel. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controversially addressed the United States Congress in 2015 in an effort to undermine the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear negotiations, she wasn’t one the 60 Democrats who boycotted the speech. “It’s unfortunate that an issue as important as preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has been muddled by partisan politics,” she said, “This is an extremely serious issue, at a critical juncture, that should not be used as a political football.”
That same year she spoke at the Christians United for Israel conference, despite their rabidly pro-Israel views and founder John Hagee’s history of antisemitic comments and support for settlement expansion in the West Bank. In 2016, she received an award from controversial Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has close ties to the pro-Israel GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. A picture from the event shows Gabbard posing with Shmuley and Adelson’s wife Miriam.
with philanthropist Miriam Adelson and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii at our Gala Dinner on 5 May pic.twitter.com/GhUXVWolXA
— Rabbi Shmuley (@RabbiShmuley) May 17, 2016
In 2017, Gabbard voted against a House resolution that refuted the U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements and in 2018 she tweeted criticism of Israel’s attacks of protesting civilians. “Israel needs to stop using live ammunition in its response to unarmed protesters in Gaza,” she said, “It has resulted in over 50 dead and thousands seriously wounded.”