The United States Senate voted 74-19 on Monday to advance a bill that would give cover to states to pass laws banning business with supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel - a move supported by many Jewish and pro-Israel organizations but opposed by free speech advocates and some left-wing Jewish groups.
The bill, known as S.1, was the first measure to be introduced in the new session of Congress this January. It is actually a combination of four bills: One that codifies then-President Barack Obama’s 10-year, $38 billion military aid deal with Israel; measures to support the Jordanian government and add sanctions on Syria; and, most controversially, the Combating BDS Act, which would support the 26 states that have already passed measures forbidding state entities from contracting or investing with groups that boycott the Jewish state.
S.1 was introduced after the partial government shutdown had already commenced, and Democrats had pledged to thwart any bill that did not re-open the government. It failed by a measure of 56-44, with only four Democrats supporting it (it needed 60 votes to pass), causing some Republicans to gloat that the Democratic Party was abandoning Israel.
But many Democrats who voted “no,” including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, had previously expressed support for the bill and said they were only against it due to its timing.
This time, Schumer was among more than 20 Democrats who voted for it, including possible presidential contender Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Those who voted no included Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts - both of whom are running for president - as well as 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sanders explained that his vote was over the Combating BDS Act’s First Amendment implications.
While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity. It is clear to me that S.1 would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 28, 2019
Among the seven senators who did not vote were Kamala Harris of California, a declared presidential candidate who was in Iowa for a CNN town hall, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Correction, 9:00 p.m.: A previous headline incorrectly referred to the Combating BDS Act as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.