Lobbyists push for Israel anti-boycott law in end-of-year spending bill

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, accompanied by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), speaks with reporters following the weekly policy luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 2, 2018.


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WASHINGTON – At the end of each year, lawmakers jockey to attach their long-stalled bills onto annual spending legislation that must pass for the government to function. And this season is no exception.

With only ten days left in session, Congress is debating whether to link funding for US President Donald Trump’s push for the border wall, bipartisan criminal justice reform and protection for Special Counsel Robert Mueller with the critical spending measure.

Slightly lower on the totem pole of priorities, they are also considering whether to attach the Israel Anti-Boycott Act – a bill that has drawn some controversy on the left – to the package, as well.

Groups across the political spectrum are pressing Republican House leadership to do so, with few days left before the 115th Congress takes a recess and makes way for new leadership under the Democratic Party.

The House will pass the bill first, and therefore can include House language of the anti-boycott act that has not been negotiated in conference with the Senate – the typical process for a bill that passes on its own.

Most Republican lawmakers support the anti-boycott act, introduced by Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in the Senate and Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Peter Roskam (R-IL) in the House. The bill targets US companies participating in international boycotts against the Jewish state.

But, while several Democrats have sponsored the bill, several have distanced themselves from legislation that critics say impedes on constitutional free speech protections.

The legislation has undergone several revisions after the American Civil Liberties Union warned that it would infringe on the right to protest.

But several Democratic lawmakers and advocacy leaders say that the bill is now sufficiently watered down to pass in Congress.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America recently endorsed the bill as “consistent” with the 2016 Democratic Party platform.

“The bill will extend existing US legal protections which protect companies from coercion by foreign countries to participate in boycotts of Israel to include protection from boycotts led by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations,” the group stated. “We support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, as amended, and urge passage of this legislation during the 115th Congress. We are encouraging JDCA members to write to their member of Congress to support passage of the bill by the end of the year.”

Christians United for Israel (CUFI), one of the nation’s largest Israel advocacy organizations, also are concerned with the bill passing. Representatives of CUFI consider passage of this measure their top priority as the year comes to a close.

One group that continues to oppose the bill is J Street, a liberal advocacy organization that seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to them, the anti-boycott bill “would do nothing to help strengthen Israel’s security or effectively combat BDS,” referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).

“Instead,” the group adds, “it would alienate many of the supporters Israel needs most.”

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