WASHINGTON — After weeks of legislative drama, a trade bill containing provisions opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel cleared its final legislative hurdle Wednesday afternoon. The anti-BDS language, passed as part of the controversial Trade Promotion Authority legislation, is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, who had pushed Congress to pass the trade bill as soon as possible.
Two amendments opposing BDS in Europe – one sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and Republican Sen. Rob Portman and the other by Republican Representative Peter Roskam and Democratic Representative Juan Vargas – were included in a trade authorization package that was considered must-pass legislation for the administration.
The president needed Congress’s vote to authorize him to negotiate trade deals with so-called “fast-track authority,” but ten days ago House Democrats turned on the president and defeated a key portion of the trade deal package.
After quick legislative maneuvering last week, House Republicans passed the authorization part of the bill – the part that the president needed most urgently and that Republicans tend to support – and then passed the revised House version back to the Senate for approval. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate gave the controversial legislation its final approval, sending trade authorization to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
The anti-BDS provisions in the trade authorization were directed toward free trade talks between the US and the European Union. The provisions require US negotiators to make rejection of BDS a principal trade objective in Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the European Union. These guidelines, sponsors hope, will discourage European governments from participating in BDS activities by leveraging the incentive of free trade with the US.
“Today, for the first time in nearly four decades, Congress sent legislation to the President’s desk to combat efforts to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel,” wrote Roskam in a statement released shortly after the Senate vote. “The recent wave of boycotts originating in Europe, including French telecom company Orange’s decision last week to sever ties with Israel, demands a robust response from the United States. This is that response. The bipartisan TPA provisions I authored are simple: if you want free trade with the United States, you can’t boycott Israel.”
“After today, discouraging economic warfare against Israel will be central to our free trade negotiations with the European Union,” he continued. “Congress will not be complicit in the marginalization of our ally Israel by watching these attacks from the sidelines. Instead, we have decided to fight back against the BDS movement and ensure the continued strength of the US-Israel relationship.”
Shortly after its passage, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) also lauded the inclusion of the anti-BDS legislation in the fast-track trade bill.
“The Senate today took a strong stand against the growing vilification of Israel. American values such as freedom and openness have triumphed over the blatant hypocrisy and bias of the anti-Israel campaigners. This vote marks a major defeat for BDS,” wrote WJC President Ronald S. Lauder.
Both Americans for Peace Now and J Street opposed the legislation, complaining that the amendments play into the hands of BDS activists’ claims by conflating boycott of Israel and boycott of products of settlements.