Senate Moves Forward on Bill Empowering State, Local Governments to Impose New Penalties on Pro-BDS Companies

Credit: Flickr user Takver
January 28, 2019

The Senate on Monday voted to move forward on the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act, which contains a provision permitting state and local governments to withhold contracts and take other actions against companies that participate in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The Senate voted 74-19 to advance the bill, with 19 Democratic senators opposing the measure, Politico reported. Democrats blocked voting on the legislation during the partial government shutdown, which ended Friday.

Aside from the BDS provision, the bill also contains new sanctions against Syria's central bank, and increases military support for Israel and Jordan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the bill "tells our ally Israel that our commitment to its security is iron clad."

"It tells our partners in Jordan that we have their backs as they grapple with the flow of refugees and other ongoing effects of the Syrian crisis and it makes it crystal clear statement to the Syrian regime and those who abet it, your brutality needs to end," McConnell added.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said he thinks the bill limits freedom of expression.

"I oppose it because it limits the right of individuals to express themselves," Durbin said of the BDS provision. "I don't think it's anti-Semitic [to vote no]. It's because of the bill of rights."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) voted in favor of moving forward on the bill, but other declared or potential 2020 presidential candidates voted differently. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) all opposed moving the bill forward, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). Sens. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.) did not vote.