House overwhelmingly condemns BDS

A screenshot of C-Span at the end of a tally of a U.S. House of Representatives vote to condemn the boycott Israel movement on July 23, 2019.

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.

The House vote Tuesday on the non-binding resolution was 398-17. Opposing were 16 Democrats, including two who back BDS, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and one Republican, Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

The resolution, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also enshrines the two state-outcome to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a time that the Trump administration and Israel’s government have retreated from two states.

Additionally, it says Americans have a right to petition in opposition to government policy, a nod toward some Democrats who oppose separate legislation that penalizes Israel boycott because, they say, such penalties impinge on speech freedoms.

“This bipartisan legislation is an important victory against the BDS movement, which seeks to inflict and encourage economic harm on the State of Israel and its people,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., in a statement. “My vote stands for the principle that no matter how divided our politics, the protection and support of our ally Israel is a bipartisan trust and should remain as such.” 

Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

Clay said he will “continue to advocate for a two-state solution that guarantees Israel’s security and recognizes the legitimate right of self-determination for the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state, coexisting in peace and cooperation with all its neighbors.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., one of the resolution’s lead sponsors told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency that bringing a vast majority of the House, including virtually the entire GOP caucus, onboard in backing two states was a major achievement. The Republican Party abandoned two states in its 2016 platform.

“It is an important statement that the United States is committed to a negotiated two-state solution to ensure that Israel is Jewish and Democratic,” Schneider said in an interview.

Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York was the lead Republican sponsor of the resolution.

Republicans continued to press for the Democratic-led House to pass separate legislation already approved by the Senate that would protect states that penalize boycotters.

“We take a first step today by publicly acknowledging BDS is dangerous and anti-Semitic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who authored the House version of the Senate bill. “But tomorrow we must take real actions — and advance the real policies in my bill — to protect Israel and combat the BDS movement.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who has backed tough anti-BDS penalties, cautioned against pushing too hard on the other bills, a sign that centrist Democrats are not soon going to join a Republican special maneuver to outflank the Democratic leadership and bring the tougher bills to a vote.

“When you get something, don’t immediately put your hand out for more,” he told JTA. “We should appreciate the importance and significance of today and of course keep fighting.

Schneider, who is Jewish, said the passage of the anti-BDS resolution made clear that opposition to the movement was a consensus issue. “I spent the last four months working with my colleagues to they understand the purpose of” the resolution, “what impact it will have in our [Jewish] community and promoting peace in the Middle East,” he said.

Also passed in the House Tuesday was legislation initiated by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C., that codifies the $38 billion over ten years in defense assistance that the Obama administration announced in the last months of 2016. Writing the assistance into law keeps any current and future presidents from walking it back. The Senate passed a similar measure.

The House bill also creates workarounds that allow some financial assistance to the Palestinians to avoid being subject to civil penalties against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. A law passed last year that allows victims of terrorism who have won lawsuits against the PLO to seize Palestinian assets in the United States has led the Palestinian Authority to refuse all U.S. assistance.

Another bill passed, sponsored by Gottheimer and Rep. Brian Mass, R-Fla., imposes new sanctions on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups that have fired missiles on Israeli civilian areas.

“AIPAC applauds the House of Representatives for adopting three bipartisan measures that strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the lobby said in a statement.

Jewish Light staff contributed to this article.