US House overwhelmingly passes anti-BDS resolution
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US House overwhelmingly passes anti-BDS resolution

After some Democrats expressed concern the measure could cause infighting, it is approved by a vote of 398-17, with five abstentions

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

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

WASHINGTON —  The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday that rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, after some Democrats expressed concern last week that the measure could cause infighting within the party leading up to the 2020 election.

The bill — formally known as House Resolution 246 — also calls for increased security aid to Israel and a two-state solution. It passed by a vote of 398-17, with five abstentions.

Sixteen Democrats opposed the bill, including representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both support the BDS movement.

One Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, voted against the resolution.

The measure “opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Democratic Illinois Representative Brad Schneider. (Courtesy/JTA)

It also says that the BDS campaign “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.”

Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois originally sponsored the resolution, which had gained 349 co-sponsors by the time it was voted on.

Tlaib forcefully castigated the measure after it was introduced two weeks ago, saying it was an effort to silence BDS supporters.

“Our [First Amendment] right to free speech allows boycott of inhumane policies,” she tweeted. “This bill is unconstitutional.”

The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — applauded its passage.

“The resolution sends a powerful message that the House of Representatives explicitly rejects discrimination directed against the Jewish state through economic, cultural and political boycotts” the group said. “Underscoring the House’s solid pro-Israel position, the resolution was cosponsored by 350 representatives — strong majorities of both parties.”

Last winter, Omar was intensely criticized for saying that AIPAC paid American politicians to take pro-Israel positions, which some criticized as promoting an anti-Semitic trope. Omar has since apologized but recently told CBS News that she did not regret what she said.

A number of high-profile legislators cautioned last week against moving forward with the motion, anxious that it could create internecine divisions as the party prepares to try to unseat US President Donald Trump.

“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.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, listen as US President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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 had warned Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a staunch pro-Israel lawmaker and Democratic leader, against bringing the bill before the full House.

The resolution also comes a little more than a week after Trump sparked a 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 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.

That resolution currently has three sponsors, Omar, Tlaib, and Georgia Representative John Lewis, a civil rights icon who famously marched on Selma.

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