Senate Democrats Blocking Pro-Israel Effort to Combat Jewish Boycotts

Anti-BDS language being stalled by top senator

Patrick Leahy
Sen. Patrick Leahy / AP
June 14, 2016

A congressional measure to combat economic boycotts of Israel is being blocked by a leading senator who recently called on the Obama administration to investigate what he alleged are Israeli war crimes, according to congressional sources apprised of the matter.

A group of senators has been working to ensure that a measure to penalize supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS—an anti-Israel movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state—is included in a government funding bill currently up for debate in the Senate.

The anti-BDS language, which would help state and local governments cut economic ties with any business linked to the BDS movement, is being stalled by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who does not want the language inserted into the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that funds most U.S. defense priorities.

Leahy, who is blocking the measure on behalf of those opposed to its language, says the pro-Israel measure will lead to greater disaster in the Middle East, according to congressional sources familiar with the senator’s stance.

Leahy is the second Democrat in less than a week to express opposition to the measure and place a hold on it. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) had been leading the charge until late Monday when a spokesperson for his office told the Washington Free Beacon that he no longer opposed the language.

A spokesperson for Leahy’s office did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on the matter.

Leahy has been a vocal critic of Israel and recently called on the State Department to launch an investigation into what he said were Israeli human rights violations in the Middle East. His effort elicited backlash from mainstream elements of the pro-Israel community, who rejected his accusations as meritless and an attempt to malign Israel.

Leahy also has come under fire for implying his Republican colleagues are more loyal to Israel than America. The accusation has widely been condemned as anti-Semitic in nature.

"While a bipartisan group of senators stepped up to work out differences and push back hard against BDS activities targeting Israel, Sen. Leahy showed his support for BDS and economic warfare against the Jewish state by blocking this amendment and preventing bipartisan efforts to include it in the defense bill," a senior congressional aide familiar with the latest efforts to block the legislation said.

Pro-Israel members of Congress, led by Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) have long been seeking an opportunity to forward the anti-BDS measure. Many leading Democrats, including Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), also support the measure.

The bill lends federal backing to state and local efforts to cut ties with any business or entity that is on record supporting boycotts of Israel.

Those Democrats opposing the legislation object to language in the measure referring to Israeli-controlled territories. They maintain this language contradicts current U.S. policy opposing recognition of contested land controlled by Israel.

Shortly after rumors of Leahy’s opposition emerged, a spokeswoman for Brown’s office told the Free Beacon Monday evening that the senator no longer objects to the anti-BDS measure.

"Sen. Brown strongly supports Israel and efforts to combat BDS efforts directed against Israel, which is why he worked with his colleagues to clear this legislation for consideration on the Senate floor," the spokeswoman said.

The Obama administration has already expressed its own opposition to the anti-BDS legislation and it is likely the president would issue an executive order to ignore the law.

Meanwhile, lawmakers such as Kirk have boosted efforts to dissuade companies from empowering the global BDS movement.

Kirk singled out Germany's Commerzbank in April for facilitating accounts tied to BDS supporters. The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that Commerzbank has moved forward with efforts to shut down these accounts.

Update 3:38 p.m.: Following publication, a spokesman for Sen. Leahy said the senator "supports the BDS amendment in principle."

"There were multiple objections blocking consideration of amendments of many senators, including Senator Leahy’s amendments, and objections to consideration of amendments of other senators," said David Carle. "Senator Leahy, who over many years has written and voted for more successful funding legislation for Israel than any other member of Congress, supports the BDS amendment in principle.  But like several other senators he does not agree with the definition in this version that equates Israel with ‘Israeli Occupied Territory.’  That is factually inaccurate, it is contrary to decades of U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations, and it should be thoroughly discussed in committee and then on the Senate floor — not as an 11th-hour hastily drafted non-germane amendment to a U.S. Defense Bill."

Update 5:23 p.m.: Leahy, who continues to oppose the anti-BDS language, has actually voted for similar legislation in the past, raising questions about the source of his current objection, according to Senate sources familiar with the debate.

Leahy voted in favor of February 2016 legislation that defined anti-BDS as including "any territory controlled by Israel."

Published under: Israel