House

House passes bill opposing BDS, exposing divide among Democrats

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to oppose the global boycott movement against Israel, laying bare Democratic divisions on relations with the key U.S. ally.

The resolution to put lawmakers on the record opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to press Israel on human rights issues in its conflict with Palestinians passed easily on a 398-17 vote, with five members voting present. Sixteen Democrats, mostly progressives, voted against it.

The resolution’s opponents included progressive freshmen Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who support the BDS movement.

{mosads}House Democratic leaders brought the resolution to the floor under a fast-track process that required a two-thirds majority for passage and limited debate to 40 minutes. No one spoke in opposition to the resolution during the allotted debate, but the two progressives delivered floor speeches earlier in the day to express why they’d vote against it.

Tlaib, citing her family’s Palestinian roots, said she “can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government in the state of Israel.”

“Our right to free speech is being threatened with this resolution. It sets a dangerous precedent because it attempts to delegitimize a certain people’s political speech and to send a message that our government can and will take action against speech it doesn’t like,” Tlaib said in her floor speech.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said ahead of Tuesday’s House floor debate that he felt the resolution opposing BDS went too far, even though he personally does not support the boycott movement.

“It goes too far, in my opinion, in telling people what they can or should think or say about the situation in Israel,” Pocan said. “I also think it is OK to be critical of the Netanyahu administration or government and their policies.”

Pocan expressed frustration that a resolution from Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) expressing support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t also getting a floor vote.

“I was told a resolution advocating for a two-state solution would be up today as well, a resolution I support. But apparently it is not. And that is a mistake,” Pocan said.

A senior Democratic aide said that it’s still possible the Lowenthal resolution could come up for a floor vote this week. 

Omar introduced a resolution last week, which does not explicitly mention Israel or BDS, to affirm the right of Americans to participate “in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad” and oppose “unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad.”

The resolution opposing BDS, authored by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), reaffirms support for a two-state solution. It argues that the boycott movement seeks to “undermine” a two-state solution “because it demands concessions of one party alone and encourages Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.” 

Lawmakers opposed to BDS stressed that the boycott movement against Israel is unlike other boycotts in American history, arguing that it espouses anti-Semitic views and undermines the prospects for peace in the long-running Palestinian conflict

“Here’s the thing about the global BDS movement: I don’t believe it promotes racial justice or social change at all. It promotes a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that seeks to marginalize Israel, that would deny the Jewish people the right of national self-determination,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said during floor debate.

“You want to criticize a government, that’s your right. You want to stop buying products from a certain country, that’s also your right. But participating in an international commercial effort that undermines Israel’s legitimacy and scuttles the chances of a two-state solution isn’t the same as an individual exercising First Amendment rights,” Engel added.

The House also passed legislation by voice vote on Tuesday to authorize more security assistance to Israel.

Both votes came ahead of a planned Democratic delegation to Israel over the August recess, which will include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), organized by a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Schneider, who introduced the resolution in March, and other fellow members of the Blue Dog Coalition urged House leadership to bring it to the floor before the House adjourns for the August recess later this week. 

A senior aide associated with the Blue Dog Coalition said that the group’s members warned leadership that if the resolution didn’t get a floor vote before recess, they would sign onto a GOP discharge petition for legislation that goes farther in sanctioning BDS.

That bill, which reflects legislation that the Senate passed earlier this year, would allow state or local governments to refuse to do business with companies that boycott Israel.

Discharge petitions are a rarely used procedure that require 218 signatures to automatically trigger a House floor vote on legislation. Republicans would currently need 22 more signatures on their discharge petition to force a vote.

Progressives including Omar, Tlaib and 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as well as human rights groups, have argued that the Senate legislation undermines constitutional rights to free speech. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), a vocal critic of BDS and one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, called for a vote on the legislation that goes beyond merely expressing opposition to the boycott movement against Israel.

“I would strongly encourage the Speaker to bring this bill to the floor as well, so that not only are we making a strong statement, but we are doing something about it,” Zeldin said. 

Tags Alan Lowenthal BDS BDS movement Bernie Sanders Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Brad Schneider Eliot Engel Ilhan Omar Lee Zeldin Mark Pocan Rashida Tlaib Steny Hoyer the american israel public affairs committee

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