Senators’ Views on anti-BDS Bill Diverge

WASHINGTON – With increased attention focused on the Israel Anti Boycott Act introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), lawmakers are adopting contrasting views on the bill given the ACLU’s opposition. Independent minded Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told Jewish Insider, “I haven’t looked at the specific language, but if it bans the ability to protest, I don’t know how that could possibly be constitutional.”

AIPAC has endorsed the bill and included the S.720 on its legislative priorities. In contrast to Paul, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) wholeheartedly backed the legislation, “I think it’s pro-free speech. I think it’s self-explanatory.”

But, for Democrats, criticism of the bill by other progressive organizations such as Amnesty International and Moveon.org is pushing liberal lawmakers in an uncomfortable position. When longtime opponent of the BDS movement Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was asked last week by Jewish Insider about his view on the legislation, he declined to voice support or opposition and instead referred the reporter to his spokesperson. Senator Tom Udall — arguably the most progressive Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — similarly declined to offer any substantive comment about S.720. “I’ve got to get briefed on the whole thing before the deal comes up,” he noted.

In a rare move, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) rescinded her co-sponsorship of the bill due to the ambiguities in the bill that drove the ACLU to harshly oppose the measure. J Street has also denounced the legislation for conflating settlements with Israel proper.

Nonetheless, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin (D-MD), still strongly stands behind S.720. “Nothing in this bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies,” he noted in a July 20 letter to the ACLU.

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