Democrats accused of anti-Semitism after filibuster of Israel bill
Senate Democrats filibustered a bill that would have strengthened U.S. relationships in the Middle East while punishing the anti-Israel boycott movement.
Some Republicans said the vote smacked of anti-Semitism, but Democrats said Republicans showed skewed priorities by pushing a foreign policy bill while hundreds of thousands of federal workers were on furlough.
The bill fell three votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, with four Democrats joining Republicans.
Republicans made clear they weren’t giving up. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, signaled more votes in the days ahead to try to break the filibuster.
He said the vote should have been a no-brainer given that it included legislation Democrats sponsored last year.
“They’ve gotten the government to shut down for two weeks. Now they want to shut the Senate down,” he said. “They’re threatening to shut down efforts to protect our allies and strengthen our relationship with Israel.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, would firm up military cooperation with Jordan, provide humanitarian assistance to allies in the Middle East struggling with the fallout of the Syrian civil war, and authorize billions of dollars in security assistance and transfer of precision weapons to Israel.
The most controversial part of the bill is a section authorizing state and local governments to refuse to do business with companies that boycott Israel or Israelilinked companies to protest the country’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
Some companies have already heeded the calls of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement.
Roughly 26 states have enacted laws, with bipartisan support, against the Israeli boycotts. One version of a state law requires those looking to do business with states to affirm that they aren’t part of a boycott, and another prohibits state agencies from doing business with contractors who support the boycott.
Democratic opponents said the Senate bill amounts to trampling on the movement’s rights.
“The right to free speech is the foundation of our democracy. Any legislation that encroaches on that foundation should be considered with great caution. I don’t believe that has been the case here,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged four state laws that attempt to punish Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and has won judgments in Arizona and Kansas. Federal courts say the laws run afoul of the First Amendment.
The ACLU sent a letter to lawmakers last Monday urging them to vote against moving the legislation forward.
Some Democrats said they are blocking action because they are fed up with the partial government shutdown, now more than halfway through its third week.
“The Senate must reopen the government as the first order of business before proceeding with other bills,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, tweeted. “Federal workers and government contractors are suffering.”
Republicans said Democrats, when they controlled the Senate during the 16-day shutdown in 2013, passed five bills.
The four Democrats who broke with party leaders to back the bill were Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
The final tally was 56-44, with Mr. McConnell switching his vote to “no” to be able to demand a revote.