Jewish House Democrats, eager to reassert party support for Israel following blowback over alleged anti-Semitic comments from colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, unveiled a bipartisan resolution rebuking a global boycott movement against Israel.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Rep. Bradley Schneider (Ill.) joined with two Republicans to introduce the resolution Thursday. It expresses opposition to any efforts to “delegitimize” Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or “BDS,” movement.
Supporters of that movement say they’re trying to pressure Israel to change its policies toward Palestinians, but opponents argue the movement seeks “the elimination of Israel,” as the two lawmakers wrote in a letter to colleagues.
“The Global BDS Movement, despite deceptively presenting itself as progressive and pro-peace, in reality, advances neither of these principles,” the resolution sponsors wrote. “The Global BDS Movement’s overly-simplistic and one-sided approach do a disservice to the cause of peace and stability by unfairly placing blame entirely on one side and by seeking to delegitimize one party on the world stage. This does nothing to encourage either party to resume negotiations or enhance a better understanding of each other or the complexity of the conflict.”
The resolution also reaffirms the need for a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict in the Middle East. Many supporters of the BDS movement back a one-state solution combining both Israel and Palestinian territories, which opponents say would upend the existence of a Jewish state.
House Democratic leadership has yet to schedule a vote on the legislation, but the sponsors of the measure have talked to leadership amid a quiet push for a vote. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who oversees the House schedule, believes the BDS movement must be condemned, according to a Hoyer aide.
Such a roll call could reignite a firestorm within the Democratic caucus, in which newer liberal members have become more vocal in criticizing Israeli policies. In addition to Omar’s criticisms of Israel, which many Jews have called grossly anti-Semitic, freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian American, has expressed support for the BDS movement, for example.
In a statement for this story Thursday night, Tlaib’s office said the congresswoman “obviously opposes this resolution because it is aimed at suppressing free speech and moves us no closer to peace and understanding.”
“Peaceful forms of speech, including economic boycotts, are constitutionally protected,” her office said in the statement. “Where would civil rights in the United States be without the heroic Montgomery bus boycotts? ... The economic boycott of Israel or any other government based on violations of human rights is about highlighting the injustices that need to stop.”
But the resolution’s sponsors argue that most Democrats, even those who oppose Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, want a two-state solution. They said they expected widespread support for the resolution.
The legislation comes just days before the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, a Washington event featuring speeches by pro-Israel lawmakers in both parties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to attend and will meet with Trump at the White House early next week.
Officials familiar with the drafting of the text, however, said the resolution has been in the works since January, when the Senate overwhelmingly passed an anti-BDS bill. Some Jewish House Democrats, including Nadler, a liberal himself, took issue with the Senate version of the text and sought to write their own, concerned about First Amendment rights.
AIPAC supports the resolution, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the group’s legislative priorities.
The resolution’s introduction comes as Republicans have tried to accuse Democrats of turning on the Jewish state. Trump recently called Democrats “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish,” and this week House Republicans’ campaign arm sent several emails accusing vulnerable Democratic lawmakers of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.
Those attacks increased after Omar (Minn.) suggested that some lawmakers support Israel simply because of campaign donations and because pro-Israel individuals have an “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Some Jewish Democrats pushed their leaders to rebuke Omar by name and condemn anti-Semitism. But many liberals — including some Democratic presidential candidates — rallied around Omar and demanded House leaders expand the resolution to condemn all hate.
At the same time, other progressive groups have taken a more aggressive stand toward Israel. MoveOn.org, for example, called on all Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination to skip the AIPAC conference, arguing that the group has worked to “defeat the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by” President Barack Obama and “is headlined by Benjamin Netanyahu — under whose leadership Israel may have committed war crimes.”
Such comments have given Republicans fodder as they seek to peel off long-held Jewish support for Democrats. Trump on Thursday endorsed Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights, a move favored by Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the House have sought to pressure their Democratic colleagues on matters related to Israel, knowing full well the issue divides the party.
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said, for example, that Democrats “unfortunately, have departed from this American foreign policy cornerstone” of supporting the Jewish state.
“Whether it’s enabling anti-Semitic remarks from one of their own or refusing to condemn the BDS movement, a racist campaign aimed at delegitimizing the state of Israel, their party is going down a dangerous road that threatens this critical relationship,” she said.
Those accusations have infuriated not only Jewish Democrats but others in the party who have long supported Israel. At the AIPAC event this weekend, Democrats are hoping to reaffirm their commitment.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said the Democratic caucus should not be afraid to put an anti-BDS resolution on the floor.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to tiptoe around opposition to a movement that doesn’t advance peace, that hurts the very people that it claims that it wants to help, and that discounts the many reasons that the United States and Israel have been such staunch allies since the founding of Israel,” he said, noting that the movement doesn’t support a two-state solution. “Having an opportunity to make that clear is important.”