US Congress Overwhelmingly Condemns Movement to Boycott Israel
23 Jul 2019 — The House, brushing aside Democratic voices of dissent over American policy in the Middle East, today overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the boycott-Israel movement as one that “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace.”
The 398-to-17 vote, with five members voting present, came after a debate that was equally lopsided; no one in either party spoke against the measure. The House’s two most vocal backers of the boycott movement — Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, freshman Democrats and the first two Muslim women in Congress — did not participate in the floor debate.
However, earlier in the day, Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, delivered an impassioned speech in defense of the boycott movement. She branded Israel’s policies toward Palestinians “racist” and invoked American boycotts of Nazi Germany, among others, as an example of what she described as a legitimate economic protest to advance human rights around the world.
“I stand before you as the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, parents who experienced being stripped of their human rights, the right to freedom of travel, equal treatment,” Ms. Tlaib said. “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.”
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S., movement is intended, among other things, to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank, and backed by some who advocate a single state with equal rights for all, instead of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Opponents warn it would lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state; during Tuesday’s debate, they repeatedly quoted from a founder of the movement, Omar Barghouti, who has argued for the creation of a “secular democratic state” and has called for Israel to “accept the dismantling of its Zionist apartheid regime.”
“Boycotts have been previously used as tools for social justice in this very country,” said Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida and a backer of the resolution. “But B.D.S. doesn’t seek social justice. It seeks a world in which the state of Israel doesn’t exist.”
For months, Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar have been the target of intense criticism for statements about Israel and Israel’s supporters that many have regarded as anti-Semitic tropes, including insinuations that Jews have dual loyalty to the United States and Israel. Ms. Omar drew the condemnation of House Democratic leaders, and was forced to apologize after invoking an ancient trope about Jews and money by suggesting that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” — a reference to $100 bills.
At a hearing last week, Ms. Omar spoke out forcefully against Israel, and the resolution.
“We should condemn in the strongest terms violence that perpetuates the occupation, whether it is perpetuated by Israel, Hamas or individuals,” she said. “But if we are going to condemn violent means of resisting the occupation, we cannot also condemn nonviolent means.”
Ms. Tlaib, Ms. Omar and two other freshman Democratic women of color — Representatives Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — have lately been under fire from President Trump, who has accused them of being anti-American and suggested they should “go back” to their home countries, even though just one of them, Ms. Omar, was born outside the United States. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez voted against the resolution, as did a number of other progressives; Ms. Pressley voted in favor.
The timing of the vote drew complaints from Palestinian rights activists and supporters of Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib, who said House Democratic leaders were effectively isolating them. Both women have also joined with Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights icon, in introducing a measure affirming that “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad,” as protected by the First Amendment.
“They are displaying leadership even as the president is attacking and marginalizing people of color,”
said Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
But Democratic backers of Israel were eager to have their votes on record before Congress goes home for its six-week August recess. Earlier Tuesday, Representative Josh Gottheimer, an ardent supporter of Israel, was joined in his home state, New Jersey, by Elan Carr, the State Department’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism, at an event billed to address anti-Semitism.
The coming vote proved to be a central topic.
“There is of course nothing wrong about having a robust debate about our foreign policy, as I said, but that debate veers into something much darker when there is talk of dual loyalty or other ancient tropes,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “These are not legitimate opinions about our foreign policy. We have often seen such anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric when it comes to the global B.D.S. movement.”
Asked if he thought the timing of the vote was inopportune, Mr. Gottheimer said,
“We should look for any moment to stand up to anti-Semitism, and I think, to me, the sooner the better.”
Backers of the boycott movement say the resolution threatens free speech rights, and they argue that boycotts are a legitimate form of economic protest. In her remarks, Ms. Tlaib cited civil rights boycotts, boycotts of apartheid South Africa and American boycotts of Nazi Germany “in response to dehumanization, imprisonment and genocide of Jewish people” — a comment that raised eyebrows among Republicans.
Proponents of the resolution argue that nothing in it abridges the right to free speech; indeed, House Democrats rejected a more far-reaching bill, passed by the Republican-led Senate, that would allow state and local government to break ties with companies that participate in the boycott movement.
The chief sponsor of the Senate bill, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, on Tuesday accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of promoting a watered-down measure and allowing “the radical, anti-Semitic minority in the Democratic Party to dictate the House floor agenda.”
During Tuesday’s floor debate, many Republicans, including Representative Lee Zeldin of New York and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip, argued for the Rubio measure. But in a rare moment of House comity, both sounded eager to join with Democrats in passing the bipartisan resolution.
“If a boycott is being used to advance freedom, that’s one we should support,” Mr. Scalise said. “But if a boycott is being used to undermine the very freedoms that exist in the only real elective democracy in the Middle East, we all need to rise up against that.”
Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from Paramus, N.J.
A version of this article appears in print on July 24, 2019, Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Lopsided Vote in the House Against a Movement to Boycott Israel.
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