LAS VEGAS — Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida predicted Friday that if Republicans retake the US House and Senate in the 2022 midterm election, Congress will for the first time be able to pass legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
While dozens of states have passed their own laws against the Israel-targeting BDS movement, legislation at the federal level has stalled due to objections from Democrats and even some Jewish organizations that say it goes too far and encroaches on free speech rights.
“I think what’ll happen is we’ll finally get BDS legislation passed out of both the House and Senate,” Scott told The Times of Israel during a joint interview with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on the sidelines of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference in Las Vegas.
Scott spoke optimistically of the GOP’s chances of building on key victories attained earlier in the week, namely Republican Glenn Youngkin’s defeat of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race.
But he admitted being unsure as to whether US President Joe Biden would sign anti-BDS legislation, even if Republicans manage to get it through Congress after the 2022 midterm.
The Biden administration insists that it “firmly rejects the BDS movement which unfairly singles out Israel.”
“While the Biden-Harris administration will fully and always respect the First Amendment rights of our citizens, of the American people, the United States will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel and will work tirelessly to support Israel’s further integration into the international community,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in July.
The Florida senator claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have joined forces to prevent him from trying to pass such laws. Schumer “won’t even get in an elevator with me,” Scott later claimed in his speech in front of roughly 700 RJC members.
Pelosi “has been talking about this for nine years and hasn’t done anything about it,” Scott told The Times of Israel.
He also asserted that Republican control of Congress would ensure that funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system would get passed.
Several progressive Democrats managed to temporarily stall the approval of $1 billion in supplemental aid in the House before the vast majority of lawmakers from both parties voted for it several days later. It has since been held up once again, this time by Republican Rand Paul, who several times blocked the Senate from approving the funds over assertions that they should be taken from US aid to Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Scott insisted that it is the Democrats who are preventing Congress from approving the money for Israel. “The entire Democratic side just doesn’t want to do anything right now,” he said.
He went on to accuse the Democratic Party of “not car[ing] about Israel.”
“It’s not just the Squad. It’s not just Bernie Sanders. It’s all of them,” he told the RJC in his speech, referring to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in what became the latest uptick in Republican rhetoric against their rivals.
“I think what we ought to be talking about is Republicans are united. We support Israel,” he told The Times of Israel.
Cruz on the consulate
Alongside Scott, Cruz argued that “the safety and security of Israel has been profoundly jeopardized under the Biden-Harris administration.”
He pointed to the Abraham Accords normalization agreements brokered between Israel and several Arab countries by the Trump administration, which under Biden have yet to expand to other countries.
Cruz claimed Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal were the “antecedents” to those agreements. He said Biden’s renewing of relations with the Palestinian Authority and intention to return to the Iran deal are taking US policy in the Middle East backward.
“We should not be funding an organization that funnels vast amounts of money to terrorists as bounty for murdering Israelis and Americans,” he said, referring to the PA.
US law bars assistance to the Palestinian Authority due to Ramallah’s stipends to security prisoners who have murdered Israelis. None of the millions of dollars in aid that was cut by Trump and reinstalled by Biden goes to the PA, but rather to US humanitarian partners working on the ground. Nonetheless, Cruz claimed that “money is fungible” and that the US aid is still reaching the Palestinian Authority.
Asked whether the ousting of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a longtime Republican ally — was a less than positive development as far as the GOP is concerned, Cruz gave a diplomatic response.
“Israel, like any sovereign country, has the right to choose their own leaders, and America will work closely with whoever the elected leaders are of Israel,” he said. “Mr. Netanyahu is a close friend with whom I’ve worked for a long time, and I fully anticipate that we will continue working closely with Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett.”
In his subsequent speech in front of the RJC, Cruz went after the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which historically served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians.
He claimed that what Biden really wants to do is move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. Biden officials have never given such indications, and US officials have stated on the record that they no intention of doing so, adding that they view Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“They realize the political costs of [closing the embassy] are too significant,” Cruz said. “So if they can’t lower our support for Israel sovereignty instead, what they will do is elevate the Palestinians’ claims to Jerusalem.”
“The entire reason they want a consulate in Jerusalem is to undermine Israel’s claims to sovereignty in Jerusalem, the one and indivisible and eternal capital,” he added, as the crowd booed the Biden administration’s plan.
At a joint press conference on Saturday, Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid asserted that there was “no place” in Jerusalem for a US consulate to serve Palestinians.
Biden had agreed to hold off on reopening the mission — part of his effort to renew ties with the Palestinians — until after the Israeli government passes a budget in order to give the new coalition time to stabilize. The budget was passed last week, and the remarks from Bennett and Lapid indicated that Jerusalem is gearing up for a fight with Washington over the matter.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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