We’ve heard a lot about the anti-Semitic “dual loyalty” canard recently. The idea that Jews are more loyal to Israel and each other than they are to the country in which they live has been used to justify the mass murder of Jews since Pharaoh in the Bible. It’s something we’re sensitive about, and in recent months, a number of prominent leftists have run afoul of this sensitivity.
But in the midst of the Trump shutdown, it’s Marco Rubio and the Republicans who are exploiting Israel as a wedge issue, by trying to force Democrats to prioritize fighting the boycott of Israel over reopening the government — and over Americans’ First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 1, proposed by Rubio as the first piece of legislation for the 2019 Senate, has two items about Israel (out of just four total): One concerns security cooperation, and the second concerns the boycott against Israel.
The “Combatting BDS Act of 2019” would allow “state and local governments to divest from entities that engage in certain boycott, divestment, or sanctions activities targeting Israel or persons doing business with Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.”
In other words, boycott Israel — or even its territories — and the United States government will boycott you. In fact, even if your boss boycotts Israel, Rubio wants the U.S. to have the right to boycott you.
Rubio seems unaware of the fact that the Constitution is designed to protect American citizens from the government, and not the other way around. “So boycotting #Israel is a constitutional right,but boycotting those participating in #BDS isn’t?” he tweeted, unaware apparently that this is exactly right: The Constitution protects an individual’s right to boycott while binding the government not to penalize someone for exercising this right.
This is a lie.
My bill doesn’t punish any political activity. It protects the right of local & state govts that decide to no longer do business with those who boycott #Israel.
So boycotting #Israel is a constitutional right,but boycotting those participating in #BDS isn’t? https://t.co/kY9MSmBkkh— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 7, 2019
America’s courts have been less ignorant. Two courts have already ruled such bills unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.
But the bill’s unconstitutionality is only the start of it. With this bill, the Republicans are cynically trying to cast the Democrats as anti-Israel, by fusing the unconstitutional anti-boycott act to more reasonable cooperation with Israel that the Democrats would otherwise support, at a time when the Democrats, desperate to end the shutdown, must refuse to vote on any bill that doesn’t include reopening the government.
Rubio and the Republicans are trying to force a choice: Support our unconstitutional bill or be branded anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic.
It’s a false dichotomy, brilliantly set up by a cynical GOP to distract from the shutdown and score points with their Evangelical base by using Israel and the false flag of anti-Semitism.
Don’t fall for it. Millions of American Jews attest to the falsity of this choice with their very being. A recent survey by the Mellman Group found what anecdotal evidence bears out: that American Jews see no conflict between being Democrats and being pro-Israel. The opposite: “American Jews see Democrats as a pro-Israel party,” the survey concluded. “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Jewish voters believe Democrats are ‘pro-Israel,’ including 84% of those who identify themselves as Democrats.”
Indeed, it’s no coincidence that it’s been Jewish Senators who have been at the front and center of the opposition this bill, which isn’t really about Israel at all. As Senator Diane Feinstein tweeted, “The Senate has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and keep the government running – this bill does neither.”
I fail to see why this legislation is a priority during the government shutdown. The Senate has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and keep the government running—this bill does neither. pic.twitter.com/Bb7YYGH14X— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) January 7, 2019
Another Jewish Senator — Bernie Sanders — similarly expressed his horror on Twitter. “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity,” he wrote. “Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.”
It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right. https://t.co/rHvpBHtHI5— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 6, 2019
And yet, when the Senate Democrats — including Chuck Schumer, who supports legislating against BDS — moved to block the bill due to the shutdown, Rubio accused them of harboring support for the boycott.
The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill.
A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 7, 2019
“A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS,” Rubio claimed. “A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”
Needless to say, a significant numbers of Senate Democrats do not, in fact, support boycotting Israel. Sanders, a Jew born in Brooklyn, is the most vocal critic of Israel in the Senate, and he is solidly in the pro-Israel camp, opposing the boycott in no uncertain terms.
There are two freshmen congresswomen who support the boycott, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. And when Tlaib spoke out against the bill, she chose to lean on Sanders, quoting him in a tweet that reproduced his sentiments.
They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. 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. https://t.co/KkmqjR58ZM— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) January 7, 2019
Of the Republican senators putting Israel ahead of the U.S. Constitution, Tlaib wrote, “They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.”
But though Tlaib was simply rephrasing Sanders’ “Let’s get our priorities straight,” she was immediately accused of using the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalties by Republicans in the House and Senate; this despite the fact that she was speaking about non-Jewish Senators forgetting the tenets of the Constitution of America.
Even some American Jewish institutions got in on the act, like the Anti-Defamation League who demanded an explanation, and the American Jewish Committee, which shamefully suggested in a tweet that it was Tlaib who had a dual loyalty because she was a proud Palestinian.
Tell us more about dual loyalty, @RashidaTlaib. pic.twitter.com/mpUrLu2YIi— AJC (@AJCGlobal) January 7, 2019
The answer to a perceived racist canard is certainly not to replicate it. But we should be expecting more of this from Republicans and the Jewish institutions that prop up their agenda. Remember the choice they are forcing: Support Israel at the expense of the U.S. Constitution — or be smeared as an anti-Semite.
It’s a choice American Jews know well. For too long, liberal American Jews have allowed ourselves to be shamed by this same kind of rhetoric from the right in our own community. For too long, we have watched silently as women of color are smeared and targeted and dragged down day after day by right wing Jews or by those for whom Jews provide a handy alibi.
No more. It is the pro-Israel, pro-Constitution Jews who are the majority. Bernie Sanders is the majority.
American Jews can tell the difference between being pro-Israel and defacing that which makes us proud Americans. We know that protecting Jews does not mean legislating away the right to free speech, but enforcing those rights at all cost. We know how important it is to be critical of the increasingly ugly ethno-nationalist policies Israel has been pursuing under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, and why that criticism is not only not anti-Semitic, but crucial for the survival of the Jewish people.
Now we just need to raise our voices.
We will not allow the right to set the agenda. It’s time for our community to say: No More.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is the opinion editor of the Forward.