The Senate's first piece of legislation in the 116th Congress is designed to protect Israel from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a campaign which encourages companies to boycott Israeli goods and services because of its occupation of the West Bank. "S.1," introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), gives state and local governments authority to boycott any U.S. companies that participate in the boycott.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor last week and described the "mega" pro-Israel bill, which is supported by Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), as such:
Yesterday, the senior Senator from Florida introduced a package of four bills that pertain to U.S. policy in the Middle East. I am a proud co-sponsor of this legislation, along with Senators Risch and Gardner. It speaks directly to some critical American interests in the Middle East: Our security cooperation with key partners Israel and Jordan, and the ongoing humanitarian and security catastrophe of the Syrian civil war… The legislation also recognizes the security, economic, and humanitarian challenges the ongoing conflict in Syria poses to the people and government of Jordan, and reauthorizes important legislation aimed at deepening our defense cooperation with this important regional partner. In addition, the bill contains a bipartisan provision from Senators Rubio and Manchin to combat the ‘BDS movement’ -- an aggressive and hostile attempt to delegitimize and economically boycott the State of Israel.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who came under fire last week for her expletive-laced rant against President Trump, is one of several Democrats to sound off against the Senate bill. In her mind, it will stifle Americans' free speech. She took Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-VT) lead and told her fellow Democrats to block the bill.
Rubio had no patience for the "dual loyalty" canard used by Tlaib and others in their attempts to squash his legislation. He said he knows the real goal behind their efforts has less to do with the First Amendment than it does with punishing Israel.
U.S. Jewish groups also shamed Rep. Tlaib for suggesting American senators were more loyal to Israel than the U.S.
"The allegation of mixed loyalty or dual loyalty has been leveled as a smear against many kinds of Americans – including against Americans of Japanese descent during World War II," the Anti-Defamation League wrote. "Though the legislation discussed is sponsored by four non-Jewish Senators, any charge of dual loyalty has special sensitivity and resonance for Jews, particularly in an environment of rising anti-Semitism."
AIPAC, when describing a former version of the bill, explained that it absolutely does not infringe on the First Amendment.
Nothing in the Israel-Anti-Boycott Act restricts constitutionally-protected free speech. The bill only regulates commercial conduct intended to comply with, further or support unauthorized foreign boycotts. American courts have routinely upheld federal laws restricting commerce that conflicts with U.S. foreign policy interests as not violating free speech. Accordingly, under the proposed legislation, companies and individuals would be barred from refusing to conduct business with Israel in order to satisfy a request from the United Nations or European Union. However, they would remain entirely free to boycott Israel on their own volition.
Some Democrats, as noted above, are opposed to the BDS movement. In addition to Democrats like Manchin, liberal leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have criticized the campaign. Cuomo stripped funding from companies who supported the movement, and De Blasio accused it of seeking "to undermine the economy of the State of Israel and make it harder for Israel to exist.”
Democrats in the 116th Congress see it differently. Yet the pro-Israel bill is not their only target. Some senators have admitted they aim to block any effort from their GOP counterparts as the new Congress gets underway. Rubio summed that effort up quite nicely below.
"So the answer to a government shutdown is to shutdown more of the government?"