WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.
The House vote Tuesday night on the non-binding resolution was 398-17. Opposing were 16 Democrats, including two who back BDS, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and one Republican, Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
The resolution, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also enshrines the two state-outcome to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a time that the Trump administration and Israel’s government have retreated from two states.
Additionally, it says Americans have a right to petition in opposition to government policy, a nod toward some Democrats who oppose separate legislation that penalizes Israel boycotts because, they say, such penalties impinge on speech freedoms.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, Pro-Israel America, Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations applauded the resolution’s passage.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., one of the resolution’s lead sponsors, told JTA that bringing a vast majority of the House, including virtually the entire GOP caucus, onboard in backing two states was a major achievement. The Republican Party abandoned two states in its 2016 platform.
“It is an important statement that the United States is committed to a negotiated two-state solution to ensure that Israel is Jewish and Democratic,” Schneider said in an interview.
Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island was the lead Republican sponsor of the resolution.
Republicans continued to press for the Democratic-led House to pass separate legislation already approved by the Senate that would protect states that penalize boycotters.
“We take a first step today by publicly acknowledging BDS is dangerous and anti-Semitic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who authored the House version of the Senate bill. “But tomorrow we must take real actions — and advance the real policies in my bill — to protect Israel and combat the BDS movement.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who has backed tough anti-BDS penalties, cautioned against pushing too hard on the other bills, a sign that centrist Democrats are not soon going to join a Republican special maneuver to outflank the Democratic leadership and bring the tougher bills to a vote.
“When you get something, don’t immediately put your hand out for more,” he told JTA. “We should appreciate the importance and significance of today and of course keep fighting.”
Schneider, who is Jewish, said the passage of the anti-BDS resolution made clear that opposition to the movement was a consensus issue. “I spent the last four months working with my colleagues so they understand the purpose of” the resolution, “what impact it will have in our [Jewish] community and promoting peace in the Middle East,” he said.
Also passed in the House Tuesday was legislation initiated by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C., that codifies the $38 billion over ten years in defense assistance that the Obama administration announced in the last months of 2016. Writing the assistance into law keeps any current and future presidents from walking it back. The Senate passed a similar measure.
The House bill also creates workarounds that allow some financial assistance to the Palestinians to avoid being subject to civil penalties against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. A law passed last year that allows victims of terrorism who have won lawsuits against the PLO to seize Palestinian assets in the United States has led the Palestinian Authority to refuse all U.S. assistance.
Another bill passed, sponsored by Gottheimer and Rep. Brian Mass, R-Fla., imposes new sanctions on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups that have fired missiles on Israeli civilian areas.
“AIPAC applauds the House of Representatives for adopting three bipartisan measures that strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the lobby said in a statement.
Without addressing the Democrats who voted against the resolution, JDCA executive director Halie Soifer said, “Both parties came together to support these measures, demonstrating overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel. This is a rejection of President Trump’s approach, which cynically aims to politicize U.S. support of Israel. Jewish Americans do not want to see the U.S.-Israel relationship politicized, and strongly reject the president’s use of Israel — and anti-Semitism — as a political wedge issue.”
Jeff Mendelsohn issued the following statement on behalf of Pro-Israel America: “We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for its overwhelming, bipartisan passage of H. Res. 246. to combat the BDS movement—a discriminatory effort that seeks to undermine and destroy Israel. We believe the BDS movement is anti-peace, promotes anti-Semitism and is contrary to the interests of the United States, and we are glad to see bipartisan leadership in Congress to take a stand against it.
“While a small number in Congress voiced support for BDS and its anti-Israel goals,” he said, “passage of this resolution with broad support on both sides of the aisle reaffirms that the U.S.-Israel relationship has strong, bipartisan support from members of Congress and the American people.”
“At its core, the BDS movement does not aim to effect political change, but to undermine and deny Israel’s right to exist,” said Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations chairman Arthur Stark, and executive vice chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. “Its leaders have called for the end of the Jewish state in any borders, and its demands, if accepted, would ultimately end the State of Israel. The pernicious campaign also diminishes the possibility of a lasting peace negotiated directly between the parties, placing the entire onus on Israel, while exempting Palestinian leadership from making any tough choices, including internal reform, ending corruption, stopping support of terrorism, etc.”
“Congress has taken a strong stand in support of Israel’s right to exist in safety and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination,” they continued. “The BDS and alleged efforts, often tied directly and indirectly to terrorist entities, has targeted Jewish and non-Jewish student supporters of Israel, often with violence and physical harassment. Congress’ strong message today will encourage them and support all who are advancing true peace in the region and understanding at home.”
JNS contributed to this report