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US Democrats split about "anti-BDS bill"

The Senate GOP`s First Bill of the New Congress Is Dividing Democrats Over

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. arrives on Capitol Hill in
Washington, as the 116th Congress begins on Jan. 3, 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. arrives on Capitol Hill in
Washington, as the 116th Congress begins on Jan. 3, 2019. Andrew Harnik—AP

By Lisa Mascaro / AP
1:55 AM EST

(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans’ first bill of the new Congress aims to
insert the legislative branch into President Donald Trump’s Middle East
policy — but also

tries to drive a wedge between centrist and liberal Democrats over attitudes
toward Israel.

The bipartisan package backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-
Ky., had initially drawn widespread support ahead of Tuesday’s vote. It
includes measures

supporting Israel and Jor the addition of dan and slapping sanctions on
Syrians involved in war crimes. But

“Combatting BDS Act,” which seeks to counter the global Boycott, Divest and
Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and the

For now, the package will almost certainly stall. The bill comes amid the
partial government shutdown, and Democrats say they will block it until
government is


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will oppose proceeding to the
legislation, according to a senior aide who was unauthorized to speak
publicly about the vote and

spoke on condition of anonymity. Other Democratic senators who also support
the bills will likely follow suit.

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Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., tweeted that the Senate “should not take up any
bills unrelated to reopening the government” until the shutdown is resolved.

But Republicans see an opening to focus on newly elected House Democrats,
including the country’s first Palestinian American woman in Congress,
Michigan Rep. Rashida

Tlaib, who has spoken about the rights of Americans to support the BDS

“This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight
for freedom & equality,” Tlaib said in a weekend tweet. “Maybe a refresher
on our U.S.

Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead
of taking our rights away.”

Israel sees a growing threat from the BDS movement, which has led to
increased boycotts of the Jewish state in support of the Palestinians. A
Woodstock-style concert

was canceled and some companies stopped offering services in the West Bank
settlements. That has led to a “boycott of the boycotts” as Israel pushes
back against those

aligned with BDS.

In support of Israel, Rubio’s bills

Opponents say Rubio’s measure infringes on free speech. Democrats must
block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the

government. Let’s get our priorities right.”

But Rubio’s office says the bill allows the governments “to counter economic
warfare against Israel.”

Both sides are squaring off ahead of Tuesday’s votes. A coalition of civil
liberties and liberal Jewish groups, including the American Civil Liberties
Union and J

Street, is working to defeat the legislation, while the influential pro-
Israel AIPAC supports it.

“Any contention that the bill infringes upon First Amendment rights is
simply wrong,” said AIPAC’s Marshall Wittman by email. “It ensures Israel
has the means

necessary to defend itself-by itself-against growing threats and helps
protect the right of states to counter boycotts against Israel.”

J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement: “While millions of
Americans suffer from the effects of the ongoing government shutdown, it’s
outrageous that

Senate Republican leaders are prioritizing legislation that tramples on the
First Amendment and advances the interests of the Israeli settlement
movement. Not a single

Democrat should vote to enable this farce.”

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and would need Democratic
votes to advance the measure over the 60-vote threshold.
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