Senators Support Anti-BDS Bill Despite ACLU Opposition

WASHINGTON – Several Republican Senators have confirmed their support of the Senate anti-BDS legislation in face of strong opposition by civil liberties and liberal advocacy groups. The ACLU has strongly opposed the bipartisan Israel Anti Boycott Act  — introduced by Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) — noting “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view.”

In an interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) emphasized, “The BDS movement has moved far beyond the notion of free speech into hatred and anti-semitic territory. That’s why I believe it’s important that we push back as strongly as possible against any such movement… I strongly support efforts to combat the BDS movement.”

AIPAC has placed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as a legislative priority. “I frequently disagree with the ACLU,” said Senator Todd Young (R-IN). “I think it’s consistent with our first amendment freedoms. There are always limits on every right that we have. I don’t think this tramples on the constitution. The [state] of Israel has been on the receiving end in international forums and increasingly on public universities of a pressure campaign to relent to their international critics. One of which is anti-Semitism and to distract from internal challenges. I think this bill is a necessary corrective to all those actions.”

In addition to free speech concerns, J Street has voiced its opposition to S.720 “blurring the Green Line under the guise of combating BDS.”

Given the pressure from ACLU and other liberal groups, some Democrats have been more hesitant about the legislation. “This is a dispute that I’m trying to resolve for myself,” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told Jewish Insider. “The ACLU’s position causes me concern. I have heard others argue that they are reading the bill wrong. Maybe that’s the case and maybe there’s something that could be added that could clarify that the free speech issues are not of concern.”

The Virginia lawmaker emphasized that Democratic members of the  Senate Foreign Relation Committee had a meeting about the bill on Tuesday. “We are not expecting immediate action about this, but we are going to try and resolve this concern. Even the proponents of the bill: we don’t want to get into these free speech issues. So whether or not the ACLU position is right or wrong, I haven’t sat down with all of the statutes myself. We’ll continue to work on it,” he added.

However, for Senator James Risch (R-ID) the cause of fighting BDS is straightforward. “I think anti-Semitism is despicable and I think this legislation goes a long way to put that back on the shelf where it belongs,” he said.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.