US House leaders advance anti-BDS bill, sparking fears of divide among Democrats
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US House leaders advance anti-BDS bill, sparking fears of divide among Democrats

Party members worry that resistance to measure by progressives could cause divisions ahead of presidential elections

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, on Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, on Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a resolution on Wednesday that rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, stoking concerns among Democrats that the measure could cause infighting within the party.

House Resolution 246 — which also calls for increased security aid to Israel and a two-state solution — currently has 341 cosponsors and would easily pass if it were brought to the floor.

But a number of Democrats are worried that resistance to the measure from the more progressive members, as well as liberal advocacy groups, could create internecine divisions as the party prepares to try to unseat US President Donald Trump. House leadership will decide if the resolution will be voted on by the full house, and when the vote would take place.

“I think the timing would not be very wise to take up additional measures around the Middle East,” Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Politico.

He added that Democrats should focus their attention on combating the Trump administration, not waging fights within the party. “Donald Trump just brought us all together,” he said, “so let’s take advantage of that.”

According to Politico, other House Democrats have warned Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a staunch pro-Israel lawmaker and Democratic leader, against bringing the bill before Congress. Meanwhile, another group of legislators are pushing for an immediate vote.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., left, arrives for a House Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Among those Democrats is Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, who is a cosponsor and advocated for the bill in the committee hearing Wednesday before votes were cast to advance the measure before the entire House of Representatives.

In his remarks, Deutch specified that the anti-BDS language in the resolution would put members on record as to whether they reject the movement to boycott Israel. Unlike other legislation that has been introduced, like the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, it does not punish BDS supporters.

“The resolution doesn’t restrict any first amendment rights,” Deutch said. “It simply allows members of Congress to be on the record opposing a movement that attempts to delegitimize Israel’s very right to exist.”

Other Jewish groups have been highly supportive of the resolution, including the Anti-Defamation League.

“We are pleased that the vast majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are affirming their opposition to efforts to delegitimize Israel, especially the boycott movement targeting Israel, while supporting a pathway to peace,” said ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt. “This constitutionally sound resolution protects the right to speak out freely against BDS, while not impinging on the free speech rights of those with other views.”

Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to United Nations Building in New York Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. The marchers are calling to end all US aid to Israel, end the Occupation and support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel (AP Photo/David Karp)

The resolution’s advancement comes days after Trump sparked an intense controversy over his tweets telling four liberal freshmen Congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from, and accused them of hating Israel.

Liberal US Jews said the president was trying to “weaponize” Israel to defend his racists tweets.

On Tuesday, US Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the Congresswomen targeted by Trump, introduced a resolution affirming the right of Americans to participate in boycotts as an expression of free speech.

“It is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement,” Omar told the Al-Monitor news site in comments published late Tuesday.

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