US Congress votes to condemn boycott of Israel
Just 17 lawmakers voted against the non-binding resolution to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, widely known as BDS.
Among them were Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, members of the trendsetting liberal group of congresswomen known as "the Squad". Fellow "Squad"-member Ayanna Pressley voted for the resolution.
Muslim-American Democrat Congressman Andre Carson also voted against the bill, as did Thomas Massie - the sole Republican to vote in support of the right to boycott Israel.
Democrats have been keen to show support for Israel, and, for lawmakers from more conservative areas, resist having the party position be defined by its most liberal members.
Several liberal Democrats - most notably Omar and Tlaib, a Palestinian-American - have been outspoken about Israel's treatment of Palestinians and their support for BDS, among other controversial issues.
Omar last week introduced a bill hoping to affirm Americans' right to participate in boycotts.
The bill endorses the BDS movement by "affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution".
But Tuesday's successful resolution - backed by a bipartisan coalition of 398 lawmakers - argued just the opposite.
Ahead of voting, the bill's chief backers warned that BDS was dangerous for both Israel and the US.
"This issue has been politicized in a way that I find ugly and ultimately harmful to the US-Israel relationship," Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said.
According to an aide to Democrat Majority leader Steny Hoyer, a main backer of the resolution, the bill was a way to shield Democrat Congress members from repeated Republican efforts to criticise attack them over the issue of Israel.
Omar, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was among the only lawmakers to object to the bill when it was included in a package the panel approved last week.
"What are we doing to bring peace? I believe that simple question should guide every vote we take in this committee," said the Somali-American lawmaker.
Omar supports the long-held US goal of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, but has made clear that she stands against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reiterating last week that "truly achieving peace" means "ending this occupation" of settlements.
An earlier version of the bill was passed in the Senate, but stalled in Congress amid concerns over First Amendment rights and the ability to protest Israel's policies.
The successful resolution has been pushed by AIPAC, an influential Israel lobby in Washington, and J Street, a more liberal pro-Israel advocacy group.
The bill puts Congress on record as standing against BDS but affirms the constitutional right of Americans to engage in "free speech, including the right to protest or criticize the policies of the United States or foreign governments".
The nonviolent BDS movement seeks to put an end to Israel's brutal occupation of the West Bank. It aims to pressure Israel to adhere to international law and human rights bypressuring corporations, artists and academic institutions to sever ties with Israel.
Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism – a claim activists firmly deny, calling it an attempt to discredit them.
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