On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 246, condemning the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement by an overwhelming vote of 398-17-5. Sixteen Democrats opposed the resolution, including Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two members of “the squad” of far-left congresswomen recently spotlighted by President Trump. (Rep. Thomas Massie was the sole GOP vote against the resolution.)
The BDS movement is radical and out of step with American ideals, as a brief look at its history demonstrates. BDS is the more sophisticated stepchild of the 1945 Arab boycott, under which “Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries” and all Arabs and their institutions were called upon “to refuse to deal in, distribute, or consume Zionist products or manufactured goods.” Although the modern left constantly claim that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, this was clearly not the case for a boycott that used “Jewish” and “Zionist” interchangeably.
During the mid-1970s, Congress passed two laws prohibiting U.S. companies from cooperating with the Arab boycott. President Jimmy Carter noted the anti-boycott law was designed to “end the divisive effects on American life of foreign boycotts aimed at Jewish members of our society.” (Those laws have lapsed, but have been maintained through executive orders issues by presidents of both parties.) In the mid-1990s, as Israel reached various agreements with Jordan and the Palestinians, support for the boycott began to crumble among other Arab nations.
Not-so-coincidentally, the revival of the boycott in the form of the BDS movement began after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and the Durban Conference of 2001 (which turned into a cesspool of anti-Semitic sentiment). The movement gained momentum with the July 2004 statement by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PCACBI) and Palestinian institutions’ July 2005 call on the international community “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
This central premise of the BDS movement—that Israel’s existence is a racist endeavor—is part of the “working definition” of anti-Semitism adopted by the United States and 30 other member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The claim is one example of the larger category of “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”
BDS leadership has made this aim clear. PCACBI founder Omar Barghouti opposes a two-state solution “because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land.” Paul Larudee, co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement, maintains a boycott must continue against “Israel until that state dissolves itself.” The Democratic Socialists of America chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The left’s opposition to House Resolution 246 is disingenuous, claiming that it somehow impinges on Americans’ First Amendment rights. To the contrary, the resolution declares it a “hallmark of American democracy for citizens to petition the United States Government in favor of or against United States foreign policy.”
There is ongoing controversy about anti-BDS laws involving government contractors or employees passed in various states and pending in Congress. BDS supporters cite Supreme Court precedent upholding the First Amendment elements of an economic boycott, while supporters of anti-BDS laws cite precedent holding that the activity itself is not protected (as well as an appellate opinion upholding existing anti-boycott regulations).
But the resolution impinges on no one’s constitutional rights; it merely put Congress on record as opposing BDS. It is entirely within the purview of the House to conclude BDS interferes with the two-state solution desired by our government on a bipartisan basis. Moreover, while the First Amendment protects hate speech, it does not prevent Congress from condemning bigotry.
The House was entirely within its rights to condemn BDS as targeting “not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel.”
In general, our civil rights laws oppose discrimination on the basis of national origin and religion. BDS, put into practice, would almost inevitably come into conflict with these principles. There is no bar against Congress recognizing this problem.
Omar’s congressional district encompasses one of the largest Somali immigrant and Somali-American communities in America. She rightly would be outraged if American businesses refused to do business with her constituents or their businesses. She rightly would be outraged if the federal government wanted to do business with those refusing services or accommodations to Somalis and Somali-Americans. The same would be true of Tlaib and Arab-Americans. Yet they see it differently regarding Israelis and Jewish-Americans.
Omar has submitted her own resolution in support of the right to boycott. The resolution does not name Israel or BDS, but Omar admitted she intends it as a pro-BDS resolution. Omar’s resolution praises prior boycotts against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and apartheid-era South Africa. Tlaib made the same comparison to the Nazis on the House floor.
As noted above, such comparisons are textbook anti-Semitism. Tlaib, in opposing anti-BDS legislation, also said supporters “forgot what country they represent.” Charges of dual loyalty landed Omar in hot water; the failure of House Democrats to condemn her anti-Semitic rhetoric has only encouraged her “squadmate” to continue it.
House Democrats recently circled their wagons around Omar, passing a vague, meaningless resolution condemning bigotry to protect her from criticism of her repeated anti-Semitic remarks. “The squad” repaid them by suggesting House leadership was racist for passing a border funding bill.
House Democrats have tried to call a truce, but doing the right thing on issues like BDS will keep internal Democratic tensions simmering. Democratic presidential candidates should be forced to take a stand on BDS in their televised debates at the end of this month, but I would not bet on that happening.