Nasty Senate Fight Breaks Out Over Anti-Israel Boycotts

January 8, 2019 Updated: January 8, 2019

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) faces his first test of 2019 late Tuesday in a showdown with Democrats over voting to end the government shutdown or a package of proposals on the Middle East.

McConnell wants the Senate to vote on S.1, the “Strengthening American Security in the Middle East Act,” which includes a bipartisan provision protecting local and state governments that refuse to contract with firms or organizations supporting the Boycott, Divest From, Sanction (BDS) Movement against Israel.

Democrats led by Maryland’s senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin argued over the weekend that senators should vote first on a measure approved by House Democrats to reopen the government.

But McConnell insists there will be no vote on reopening the government without firm assurances that President Donald Trump will sign it. Trump won’t sign the House bill because it doesn’t fund construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.

The Senate Democrats’ shutdown strategy ran into an unexpected obstacle, however, on Sunday when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) put the anti-BDS provision in S.1, instead of the government shutdown, at the center of the debate.

Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted McConnell and Senate Republicans on S.1, tweeting that “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. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.”

Tlaib, one of two newly elected House Democrats who are vocal Muslims, and who supports BDS, responded, saying:

“They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

Rubio, one of the prime sponsors of S.1, blasted back at Sanders and Tlaib Monday morning, accusing Tlaib of anti-Semitism:

“This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line #BDS isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying #Israel,” in one tweet, followed within minutes by another arguing the BDS Movement has significant support among Senate Democrats:

“The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill. A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”

Spokesmen for Sanders and Cardin did not respond to a request for comment, but a Senate Democratic aide who asked not to be identified said the BDS provision was irrelevant to the shutdown issue.

And a Van Hollen spokesman pointed to his tweet and that of Cardin in responding to Rubio. “You’re missing the point. It’s not about which bill we’re voting on. It’s about the fact that McConnell has the power to bring up the bipartisan House-passed bills today and end this shutdown and we need to make that the first order of business,” Van Hollen tweeted.

“I’ve worked closely with you on BDS, @MarcoRubio, and disagree with you here. The government #shutdown is a crisis, impacting millions of Americans and our economy. We can’t simply proceed with business as usual. Reopening the govt must be our first priority. #EndTheTrumpShutdown,” Cardin tweeted.

Cardin was one of the initial authors and among eight Democrats who last year co-sponsored the anti-BDS provision now in S.1.

None of the Democrats approached Tuesday by The Epoch Times would discuss Rubio’s claim about a contentious BDS debate in their caucus.

McConnell must have all 52 Republican votes and those of at least eight Democrats in order to invoke cloture and open debate on S.1. The vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8.

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