A leading pro-Israel lawmaker is pushing back against lobbying efforts by anti-Israel activists to derail a piece of legislation that would work to prevent U.S. trade partners from supporting economic boycotts of Israel.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) blasted a coalition of anti-Israel organizations, including the left-wing group J Street, for seeking to kill a new bipartisan measure that would fight back against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on an international scale.
The legislation, co-authored by Roskam and Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), was unanimously passed as an amendment to a larger trade bill currently up for consideration in Congress.
The amendment would counter global BDS efforts by requiring the United States to pressure its European trade partners to reject anti-Israel boycotts as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a massive trade deal between the United States and the European Union.
While the measure has received widespread support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, a coalition of anti-Israel activists has launched a lobbying blitz to derail the amendment.
Left wing groups such as Americans for Peace Now (APN), the pro-boycott Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and J Street have begun pressuring lawmakers to oppose the amendment both in the press and behind the scenes.
Their efforts were featured in a recent Politico article.
On the other hand, the amendment is being supported by a who’s who of pro-Israel and Jewish organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Israel Project (TIP), the Israel Allies Foundation, and other groups. Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, also supports the amendment.
Roskam, who has so far remained silent about the anti-Israel lobbying campaign, said on Monday that these organizations are waging a fringe effort to delegitimize Israel.
"This is a non-story: a bunch of anti-Israel groups criticizing a pro-Israel amendment," Roskam said. "While a broad bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress are focused on strengthening the mutually beneficial U.S.-Israel economic relationship, this small handful of outside organizations are more interested in defending destructive efforts to delegitimize Israel."
J Street has been sending senators a form letter pressuring them to oppose the amendment. However, their effort appears to have had little success, given the unanimous bipartisan support in place for Roskam’s measure.
J Street and others lobbying against the anti-BDS measure say the bill is an attempt to legitimize Israeli home construction in contested areas of the West Bank and elsewhere in Israel.
By using the term "Israeli-controlled territories" in the legislation, lawmakers are attempting to legally give Israel claim to the disputed lands, the groups maintain.
However, multiple sources familiar with the bill and its language dispute this claim. The bill, they say, is about protecting Israel from anti-Semitic boycotts that seek to delegitimize the Jewish state’s place in the Middle East.
"Their claim that BDS provisions unanimously adopted in the House and the Senate are creating an obstacle for [the trade bill] is ludicrous," said Michael Shapiro, a Roskam spokesman. "Those who have already decided to vote no on efforts to secure job creating free trade agreements are merely using this issue as a pretense to distract from their job-killing, anti-trade agenda."
The Politico article on the anti-Israel activists emphasized the role of AIPAC, suggesting that the group’s efforts to promote the anti-BDS amendment could hamper the passage of the trade bill.
One AIPAC source dismissed these this possibility.
"This amendment is about boycotts, not settlements," said the AIPAC source. "There is absolutely nothing in this amendment which prejudices the determination of final borders as part of a two-state solution or makes any judgment about settlements."
Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesman who now heads the Israel Project, described as ludicrous the claims made by J Street and other anti-Israel activists opposing the measure.
"Once again, a bunch of anti-Israel groups are working to undermine mainstream pro-Israel legislation," Block said. "These same fringe groups would have supported the Arab-led boycott of Israel over the decades, just as they are supporting it now. It's despicable."