Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rep. Eliot Engel speaking on the House floor. (Credit: C-Span)

The final vote tally of H. Res. 246. (Credit: C-Span)

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday evening opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, registering strong opposition to the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) targeting Israel, noting that BDS is counterproductive to any peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The resolution states that BDS targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel. It also states that the BDS movement promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress toward peace and a two-state solution. 

The final tally of House Resolution 246 was 398 in favor, 17 against. Five members of the House voted present. 

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). It had 349 co-sponsors, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.). The co-sponsorship list included 175 Republicans and 174 Democrats.

“This issue has been politicized in a way I find ugly and that’s ultimately harmful to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It’s time that our leaders stop playing politics with our relationship with the Jewish state,” said Congressman Engel, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, in an impassioned Tuesday night speech on the House floor. “But when the fog clears, and the bullies on their pulpits end their tirades, what you see with this measure is a real, bipartisan reflection of how this country regards its relationship and support for Israel in relation to BDS. Almost 80% of the House members are cosponsors,” he added. 

What the resolution says is not complicated, said Engel. “It says that support for BDS and support for a two-state solution are incompatible.”

Engel directly addressed those in his own Democratic party who charge that BDS is legitimate because Americans have the right to boycott anything they want, and that there is a long history of individuals using boycotts to effect racial justice or social change. “But here’s the thing about the global BDS movement. I don’t believe it promotes racial justice or social change at all. It promotes a one-sided view of the Palestinian conflict, that seeks to marginalize Israel, that would deny the Jewish people the right of national self-determination, a right proclaimed by none other than the United Nations. 

“Many of us have been fighting for years to advance the future for the Israelis and the Palestinians of two states, for two peoples living side-by-side, in peace and security. Building that future will require hard work and concessions. BDS says the onus is entirely on Israel.” 

Engel noted that for BDS activists, all concessions have to come from Israel, and the Palestinians should reject all negotiations and just allow international pressure to build on Israel. “Well, you know, that’s not how negotiations work, and it’s no way to promote peace. That’s why this movement is so counterproductive, in my view. You want to criticize the government? That’s your right. You want to stop buying products from a certain country? That’s also your right. But participating in an international commercial effort that undermines Israel’s legitimacy and scuttle the chances of a two-state solution isn’t the same as an individual exercising First Amendment rights.”  

Engel said he continued to believe in working toward a two-state solution that guarantees the right of self-determination to both Jews and Palestinians, not one or the other. 

BDS, agreed Congressman Gottheimer, who also spoke Tuesday night on the House floor, is indeed “fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution, which I strongly support. BDS seeks to punish only Israel, and it rejects direct negotiations in favor of unilateral strategy. That is why it is so important that Congress goes on record opposing BDS and other harmful efforts to single out and delegitimize Israel,” he said. 

Gottheimer also quoted the founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, who laid out the goals of his boycott clearly. “‘Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state.’ That exactly captures what we are fighting here today. There are few clearer examples of bias and double standards than the BDS movement,” said Gottheimer. 

Gottheimer expressed his support for the legislation being bipartisan, and noted the legislation as part of his overall aim to work with House members and others on the other side of the aisle on such topics. “Standing up for the U.S.-Israel relationship should not be a partisan issue,” Gottheimer added.  

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) also expressed his strong support of the legislation, which he also supported as a cosponsor. “I am proud to have supported legislation that passed the House of Representatives today which reaffirms our commitment to the security of our friend Israel. Both the Israeli and Palestinian people should be able to live in safe and sovereign states, free from fear and violence. This American policy has longstanding bipartisan support in Congress,” Pascrell said. 

However, Pascrell added, “Today’s fractious politics, intensified by the BDS movement, makes it more difficult to achieve cooperation in support of our ally. It is absolutely critical that we foster an environment where there is the possibility for direct negotiations to continue to pursue a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Among those who voted against House Resolution 246, 16 of them were Democrats while the lone Republican was Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Andre Carson (Ind.), Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Chuy Garcia (Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.). Jayapal and Pocan are co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus. 

“I stand before you the daughter of Palestinian immigrants,” said Freshman Rep. Tlaib on the House floor. “Parents who experienced being stripped of their human rights, the right to freedom of travel, equal treatment. So I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the State of Israel. I love our country’s freedom of speech, Madam Speaker. Dissent is how we nurture democracy.” She equated her view of the legitimacy of BDS by referring to previous boycotts of Nazi Germany and South Africa during apartheid, the policies of which she presumably also would have opposed.

In his speech on the House floor, Rep. Zeldin (R-N.Y.) called drawing a “moral equivalency” between boycotting Nazi Germany and Israel “disgraceful.” 

Freshman Rep. Omar, the former Somali refugee who gained a coveted post as a member of the House foreign affairs committee, was among the few lawmakers to voice objection to the legislation when the bill was included in a package the committee approved last week, according to an account by the Associated Press. “What are we doing to bring peace? I believe that simple question should guide every vote we take in this committee,” said Omar. In legislation she was preparing to introduce, she also compared Israel’s government to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and South Africa under apartheid. 

“Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad including ... boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust,” Omar wrote in House Resolution 496, which she introduced last week.

Omar has been outspoken against Israel, once tweeting that lawmakers were supportive of the Jewish state because they were essentially being paid to do so. “It’s all about the Benjamins,” she wrote. It was widely considered a slur that relied on an anti-Semtic trope against Jewish people.

Zeldin shot back. “Israel is our best ally in the [sic] Mid East; a beacon of hope, freedom & liberty, surrounded by existential threats,” he wrote on Twitter. “Shame on Rep @Ilhan Omar for bringing her hateful twist on that reality to House Foreign today, propping up the BDS movement & blaming Israel for all of its challenges.”

New York’s Ocasio-Cortez told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that BDS is “a tough issue, especially for constituencies back home … ultimately, it comes down to protecting free speech. And my concern with being overly punitive on nonviolent forms of protest is that it forces people into other channels and I would hate to be a part of, you know, paving that kind of path.”

Long-serving Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), in a surprise move, joined Omar and Tlaib as an original co-sponsor of the House Resolution 496, the pro-BDS legislation. Lewis has previously been a vocal supporter of Israel and his reelection campaigns have been supported by NORPAC and other pro-Israel PACs.

By Elizabeth Kratz

 

 

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