House Minority Leader Forced Cancellation of Congressional Event to Promote Boycotts of Israel

Free Beacon report sparks controversy on Capitol Hill

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi / AP
September 14, 2016

A congressionally sponsored event to promote boycotts of Israel was cancelled late Tuesday evening after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) was informed about the forum and made an impromptu phone call to the lawmaker sponsoring the event, ordering that it be shut down, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Free Beacon disclosed earlier this week that a member of Congress had lent their backing to an event aimed at promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which has been widely cited as an anti-Semitic effort.

The group hosting the forum, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, is known for employing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic language, according to human rights organizations.

The U.S. Campaign was reported to have convinced a low-level staffer in Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D., Texas) office to reserve an official congressional room for the event.

Pelosi’s office then called Jackson Lee to "demand" the lawmaker revoke her support and cancel the event, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Pelosi learned of the event after William Daroff, a leading pro-Israel official, informed her of the Free Beacon’s reporting on the pro-BDS forum, according to sources.

A photo posted on Twitter of Daroff and Pelosi appeared just before Pelosi’s office reportedly called Jackson Lee’s office to demand that the congresswoman withdraw her sponsorship of the event, sources said.

Daroff, who serves as The Jewish Federations of North America’s senior vice president for public policy and the director of its Washington office, declined to comment on the specifics of his conversation with Pelosi.

"The leadership of the Democratic Party, and the vast, vast majority of Democrats across the country reject BDS as a fringe movement that spouts hatred and discrimination," Daroff told the Free Beacon. "Leader Pelosi and her staff are to be commended for standing firmly for a strong Israel and for encouraging dialogue between the parties, as distinct from the BDS movement which seeks to abolish the Jewish state through discriminatory boycotts."

A source familiar with the situation said that the Free Beacon’s reporting on the event sparked outrage on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle firmly reject the BDS movement.

"No one knew anything about the BDS briefing until the Free Beacon wrote about it last night," the source said. "Then Jewish and pro-Israel groups started ringing alarm bells. Someone got to Pelosi, who shut the whole thing down with one phone call.

The Free Beacon disclosed on Tuesday that the pro-BDS forum may have violated congressional rules barring the use of official facilities to host organizations that promote discrimination.

Internal congressional documents also showed that Jackson Lee—who had made an attempt to remain anonymous—would have had to attend the event.