Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) on Tuesday slammed efforts in the Senate to pass a bill that, among other measures, would allow state and local governments to refrain from doing business with U.S. companies that boycott Israel.
Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, appeared on WBAI, a progressive radio channel, for an interview with "Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman, where she was asked about her opposition to Senate Bill S.1, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).
"The Intercept is reporting that the Senate in its first legislative act will take up a bill that aims to prevent opposition to the Israeli government by allowing state and local governments to boycott any U.S. companies which are engaged in a boycott against Israel," Goodman said. "It's called the 'Combatting BDS Act' ... Can you respond to the state of laws and the legislation being introduced?"
"I agree with Senator Sanders and ACLU and others who see this as an anti-speech, anti-First Amendment bill," Tlaib said. "The fact that we have our senators that right now could be voting on opening up our government, they have the bills in their hands, are voting on this, that's distracting us from what is our focus, which is the American people."
She castigated the "Combatting BDS Act," a measure contained in the "Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019" to combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which wages economic boycotts on the Jewish state and its people. Tlaid said the act is "literally an attack on our Constitution."
"One of the most critical rights that we have in our country is freedom of speech. I cannot imagine our country not having the right to economic boycott," Tlaib said. "I just wish the United States senators that are in power, that are in leadership right now, would not be so focused on taking away our rights and be focused on helping the thousands of families, millions going on the 18th day that are impacted by this government shutdown."
Goodman brought up Tlaib's tweet from Sunday, where she said Republicans in the Senate "forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality." The host quoted Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, who said Tlaib's comment "could be interpreted as offensively insinuating dual loyalty – a trope with a long and troubling history."
The congresswoman pushed back against Greenblatt and her critics by saying that "everyone knows what my intent was. I said 'read the United States Constitution.' That's exactly what I want them to do because that is the law of the land."
"I don't want our right to be able to speak in dissent to be taken away. I don't care if it's Saudi Arabia or if it's Israel or any other country," Tlaib said. "I can't imagine our members of Congress or even the residents back in the day that pushed back against the apartheid in Africa not to be able to boycott. All of these kinds of claims are just farce."
Tlaib said the anti-BDS laws are "fundamentally un-American" in a statement to the Metro Times.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) expedited consideration of the bill and had it moved straight to a vote on the floor on Tuesday, but top Senate Democrats balked at the bill, despite the package previously receiving bipartisan support. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), Ben Cardin (D., Md.), and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) were among the senators who came out against a vote on the pro-Israel legislation.
"It's absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity," Sanders said in a tweet. "Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don't reopen the government. Let's get our priorities right."
Cardin tweeted the Senate "should not take up any bills unrelated to reopening the government" until the shutdown is resolved.
The package stalled in the Senate on Tuesday with a vote of 56-44, not enough to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to advance, the Washington Post reported.
Rubio responded to critics accusing his bill of running counter to the First Amendment by saying it "isn’t about free speech."
"Companies are free to boycott Israel. But local and state governments should be free to end contracts with companies that do," Rubio tweeted.