A provision added to the new Senate bill by Sen. Marco Rubio seeks to stifle support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
By Brant Rosen | Truthout | Jan 31, 2019
It is a message to Jews who still care about Israel, to say, ‘You’ll be much more comfortable in the Republican Party.’
— Norm Coleman, national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition
With the Senate’s imminent passage of the grandiosely titled Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, it’s now official: Israel/Palestine will be a major political wedge issue in the 116th Congress and the 2020 election season. And it’s not going to be pretty.
This new Senate bill is essentially a package of previous bills that appears on the surface to be boilerplate Middle East legislation. But with the addition of a provision by Sen. Marco Rubio that seeks to stifle support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, this legislation is nothing short of a Republican line drawn in the sand.
BDS — the movement mobilized in response to a Palestinian civil society call for economic activism in support of Palestinian human rights — has long been a flash point for advocacy on the issue of Israel/Palestine. Over the past several years, there have been attempts on a state and federal level to fight BDS on a legislative level. While this new Senate bill does not criminalize BDS outright, it does encourage the passage of state laws that would require government contractors to certify they don’t participate in boycotts. More than two dozen states have passed such legislation in the past four years — laws that clearly violate the First Amendment right of free speech, as the ACLU and myriad other legal experts have pointed out.
In fact, the legality of these laws has already been successfully challenged in court. In Arizona, a US District judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of its anti-BDS laws. Last December, a lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of a speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, after she was told that she could no longer work in the school district for refusing to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel.
Of course, the patently unconstitutional nature of these laws is immaterial to Senate lawmakers, who know full well that this legislation will have precious little impact on the “strength of America’s security in the Middle East.” Rather, the bill is a clear attempt by Republicans to divide Democrats over the politically fraught issue of Israel/Palestine, with BDS as the ultimate litmus test.