Congressional Forum in Favor of Boycotting Israel May Violate Rules on Discrimination

Member sponsoring event must attend under congressional rules

A button advertising the anti-Israel BDS or boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement. / AP
September 13, 2016

An upcoming congressionally sponsored forum to promote boycotts of Israel may violate internal rules barring the use of federal offices for events that promulgate discrimination "based on race, creed, color, or national origin," according to congressional documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Free Beacon disclosed on Monday that a member of Congress who refuses to be identified publicly is sponsoring a forum this week that promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which has been criticized by Jewish organizations as an anti-Semitic effort.

Efforts by senior congressional sources to determine the name of the lawmaker sponsoring the event have so far failed, but the Free Beacon has learned that the lawmaker is required to attend the event under congressional rules governing the use of official facilities.

Internal congressional documents governing the use of federal facilities also bar lawmakers from hosting any outside organization that practices discrimination.

Human rights groups and Jewish organizations have long accused the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the organization leading the Friday event, of engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric and supporting discrimination against the Jewish state.

Josh Ruebner, the campaign’s policy director, has faced additional criticism for calling a Jewish member of Congress an "Israel firster," a slur that implies Jewish Americans hold dual loyalty to Israel.

Internal policies governing congressional events bar lawmakers from permitting entrance to groups that promote discrimination.

"These rooms shall NOT be used for… organizations practicing discrimination based on race, creed, color, or national origin," the policy mandates.

Additional forms require that the member of Congress sponsoring the event "be present" at the event, according to a copy of these materials obtained by the Free Beacon.

"I certify that I am authorized by my employing Member/Office of the HOR to submit this request and that such Member/Officer is expected to be present at the event," the form states.

The member or members of Congress backing the pro-boycott will have to make a public appearance at the event, or risk violating congressional rules, sources said.

"This briefing appears to be a blatant violation of House rules," one senior congressional aide familiar with the matter told the Free Beacon. "There is no question that the BDS movement is inherently discriminatory against Jews. They should take their extremist, anti-Semitic agenda elsewhere."

"I'm also curious to see whether the mystery member of Congress sponsoring this event will actually show up," the source added. "If they do, we'll know who is facilitating this hateful propaganda. If they don't, this event will violate yet another rule."

Another form states that congressional facilities should only be used for matters that serve lawmakers. This could complicate efforts by pro-BDS supporters to justify the event, as Congress has backed multiple laws to restrict the boycott movement.

"The use of meeting rooms under the jurisdiction of the Commission is restricted to Congressionally related uses or purposes which serve Members, Committees, Officers, of organizations of Congress. Conditions and procedures for use of the rooms may be promulgated by the Commission," this form states.

Lawmakers and pro-Israel organizations have expressed outrage over the event and called for its cancellation following the Free Beacon's initial report.

"I am shocked and outraged at reports that an anti-Semitic group will be spreading its anti-Israel message at a sponsored event on Capitol Hill," Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said in a statement. "The hallowed halls of our nation's Capitol must encourage debate and discussion, but that doesn't mean that rooms funded at taxpayer expense should provide a forum for radical groups to spread their propaganda in support of the anti-Israel ‘Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions' movement. Further, it is disturbing that the member of Congress who supported and sponsored this event has not come forward. I condemn these anti-Semitic actions in the strongest terms."

The Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday called for the cancellation of the pro-BDS event.

Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told the Free Beacon that efforts by BDS groups to mainstream support for their movement are failing.

"Why did Ruebner choose to hold a BDS event on the Hill, rather than somewhere else? Because he wants to show that the cause of destroying Israel is becoming acceptable," Pollak said. "But he couldn't find a single senator or member of Congress—that's a total of 535 people—to attach a name to his hatefest. So Ruebner is actually accomplishing the opposite of his original goal. When you go zero-for-535, you're not normalizing your cause—you're showing how disliked and isolated it is."

Ruebner did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on who in Congress is sponsoring the event.

Published under: Israel