Sens. Cory Booker, Rand Paul defend vote against anti-BDS bill
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Photo by Jacob Kornbluh
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, known as S.1, on Tuesday, by a vote of 77-23. The legislation incorporates four bipartisan bills, including the reauthorization of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2016, and a measure that empowers state and local governments to counter the BDS movement.
The measure was opposed by all Democratic senators who’ve announced a run for president in 2020, including Sen. Cory Booker (D- NJ), who had expressed his support of the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act last November.
Booker defended his vote against S.1 in a statement to Jewish Insider. “I have a strong and lengthy record of opposing efforts to boycott Israel, as evidenced by my cosponsorship of S. 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. However, this specific piece of legislation contains provisions that raise serious First Amendment concerns, and that’s why I voted against it. I drafted an amendment to help address these widely-held concerns, but there was no amendment process offered to allow for this bill to be improved.”
“There are ways to combat BDS without compromising free speech, and this bill as it currently stands plainly misses the mark,” Booker added.
Many of the bill’s critics argued against it on “free speech” grounds, with significant interest from groups such as the ACLU. The group released a statement in January calling the anti-BDS provision “unconstitutional.” This evening the ACLU tweeted:
BREAKING: The Senate just passed a bill that would encourage states to adopt unconstitutional laws aimed at suppressing boycotts of Israel.
It’s a sad day when the Senate chooses politics over the Constitution and tramples on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 5, 2019
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who placed a hold on the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 in November, joined the minority in opposing the bill. Sergio Gor, Sen. Paul’s communications director, told JI on Tuesday that, “Senator Paul strongly opposes any limitations on boycotts, even those he disagrees with. He doesn’t agree with boycotting Israel, but thinks it’s a very dangerous precedent for the government to start outlawing boycotts.”