On July 23, the US House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Even though the resolution acknowledged the individual right to protest and boycott, it deemed the movement “anti-Semitic”. A majority of the Republicans and Democrats in the House voted in favor of the resolution, with 398 votes for it, 17 against and 18 abstained.
The resolution (H.Res. 246) was introduced by Brad Schneider, a Democratic representative from Illinois, and had over 341 co-sponsors from across the bench. It was reportedly tabled in response to an earlier bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate that sought to legalize various kinds of sanctions on those who support or participate in the movement. Several House Democrats have deemed such sanctions to be an infringement of people’s freedom of expression.
Despite the lofty aim of affirming an individual’s right to free speech, it fails to mention attempts by several States as well as the Senate to criminalize BDS.
The 17 “nay” votes came from Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Andre Carson, Debbie Dingell, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee, Thomas Massie, Betty McCollum, Gwen Moore, Chellie Pingree, Mark Pocan, Bobby Rush and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Multi-million dollar lobbying behind the resolution
According to Common Dreams, the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was behind the resolution and was one of its priority lobbying targets. The AIPAC is an umbrella of several pro-Israel and Zionist organizations. It is known for its extensive lobbying in favor of Israel as well as for its campaigns to deflect criticisms and political actions from its military occupation and routine displacement of Palestinians. In the mid-term election of 2018, pro-Israel lobbies spent nearly USD 14.9 million on House candidates, making AIPAC the biggest foreign policy lobbying group in the US.
AIPAC has been involved in various anti-BDS laws passed by several States that sanction individuals and establishments for supporting the BDS movement. It was recently in the news for supporting the infamous Israel Anti-Boycott Act that was passed by the Senate in February and that is yet to be tabled in the House. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act allows States to take measures to continue sanctioning pro-BDS establishments of government investments if they deem it necessary. An earlier version of the act had penalties for establishments and individuals, including prison time, for supporting BDS.
Meanwhile, another proposed resolution remains pending in the House. The resolution, tabled by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, seeks to reaffirm the constitutional right of individuals and corporations to participate in boycotts and sanctions of oppressive regimes in pursuit of human rights. Although it does not mention BDS, the resolution seeks to urge States and other authorities to abstain from punishing people for participation in non-violent political movements.
Co-sponsored by Rashida Tlaib and veteran civil rights activist John Lewis, the bill currently has nine co-sponsors and is gaining greater attention both within the Congress and outside of it. Omar is known for her political positions within the House, for pushing her fellow Congresspersons into a public debate on Israel’s crimes towards Palestine and on the powerful pro-Israel lobby.