Democrats remain non-committal about anti-BDS bill

WASHINGTON – While the Israel Anti-Boycott bill was introduced in March and received considerable media attention, partly due to the ACLU’s opposition, many Democrats remain reluctant to take a stance on the legislation impacting Israel. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Jewish Insider that he has not read yet the legislation, adding “I can’t lean one way or another until I read it.”

The bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate by Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) have sponsored the House version.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, noted that he has yet to co-sponsor the bill. “I am going to continue to look at the bill. I have heard the concerns that people have and understand there is some efforts to have those concerns be addressed,” he explained. At the same time, the Connecticut lawmaker explained, “I think that BDS and boycott tactics are ineffective and counterproductive.”

The legislation would expand the 1970s era laws prohibiting compliance with boycotts against Israel by foreign governments to include boycotts organized by international organizations. AIPAC has placed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as one of its top legislative priorities for 2017.

While taking multiple questions from reporters at a gaggle, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) declined to elaborate about her view on the S.720 bill.

Due to concerns from some activists, Representative Joe Kennedy (D-MA) expressed caution about the legislation. “There are obviously free speech concerns and that is something that needs to be looked at. Any legislation that hasn’t begun committee process, there is always chances to try and improve that bill,” Kennedy explained after attending an event on Thursday commemorating former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for his peace overture with Israel.

The next step for the legislation would be a vote in the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban affairs in addition to possible committee hearings with expert witnesses.

In an unusual move, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) removed her name from the co-sponsor list last month. 48 Senators are currently co-sponsors of the legislation, including Democrats.

Responding to the ACLU’s charges, Cardin and Portman wrote “Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel and its policies. Instead, it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”

Explaining his opposition, Faiz Shakir, ACLU’s National Political Director, argued “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

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