(Washington, D.C., January 9, 2019) Today, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) called on the US Senate to pass S. 1, the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S. 1 on January 7 along with Senators James Risch (R-ID), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The bill stalled in the Senate on Tuesday when a motion to invoke cloture and vote on final passage failed to gain the required 3/5 majority. Fifty-six senators from both parties voted in favor of the motion, while 44 Senators voted against it.
S. 1 is a collection of Middle East-related bipartisan bills that had been introduced during the previous Congress, but were never voted on before the end of term. This includes the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, and the Combating BDS Act.
The latter section of the bill proved to be the most controversial. The Combating BDS Act would prevent the federal government from preempting state and local government-passed laws that prohibit contracting with individuals or businesses that boycott Israel and Israeli-owed businesses. Opponents of the Act falsely claimed that it infringes upon free speech, even though the text of the bill itself plainly states “Nothing in this title shall be construed to infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stated, “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.” The ACLU also came out against the bill as an infringement on the First Amendment.
Sarah Stern, the founder and president of EMET pushed back, arguing “At a time when anti-Israel hate groups are using economic warfare against the sole Jewish State, it is critical that the US Senate stand with Israel by passing S.1. Combatting the anti-Semitic BDS movement should not be a controversial issue. This bill does not prevent individuals from participating in their first amendment rights, but simply allows states and local governments to divest from entities that are engaged in discriminatory practices against the State of Israel.”
Many states already enforce anti-discrimination rules when determining eligibility for government contracts, or prohibit boycotts based on race and national origin. The New York Human Rights Law is an example of the latter. There are currently 26 states that have passed anti-BDS laws, often by large bipartisan majorities in the state legislatures.
Some of the senators who voted against the motion to invoke cloture cited the partial shutdown of the government. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) tweeted “We can’t simply proceed with business as usual. Reopening the govt must be our first priority.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill’s sponsor, accused Democrats of wanting to avoid a tough vote on Israel when an increasingly large segment of the Democratic party supports the BDS movement. “The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to the Middle East Security Bill,” Rubio tweeted. “A significant [number] of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”
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