Democrats ac­cused of anti-Semitism after fil­i­buster of Is­rael bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ALEX SWOYER

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.

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