Senate Democrats Block Rubio Mideast Policy Bill That Sparked Heated BDS Debate

Nearly all Senate Democrats vote against proceeding debate on bill, which includes U.S. security assistance to Israel and Jordan, and steps against Syrian regime

FILE PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the Capitol in Washington, December 18, 2018
J. Scott Applewhite,AP

WASHINGTON – Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill on Tuesday regarding Middle East policy proposed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that ignited heated debate in Washington about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Rubio’s legislation included a number of bills regarding U.S. security assistance to Israel and Jordan, as well as a set of new steps against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.

It also contained a bill in support of states passing laws against the BDS movement.

Nearly all Senate Democrats, including many who have previously supported legislation against BDS and in favor of security assistance to Israel, voted against proceeding the debate on the bill.

The official party line expressed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is that no bill should come up for a vote until U.S. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans agree to end the ongoing government shutdown.

Minutes after the vote, the Republican Jewish Coalition put up a tweet attacking the Democrats for blocking it, highlighting the security elements of the bill and the fact that 43 out of 47 Senate Democrats voted against it.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America supported the party line, saying in a tweet that Senate Democrats "are right to insist on reopening the government and ending the" government shutdown. It also criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for "playing politics with Israel."

Rubio criticized Democrats for blocking the bill and said earlier this week that the shutdown was only an excuse for the party to vote against the bill.

According to Rubio, a “significant number of Senate Democrats” actually support the BDS movement against Israel – an accusation that was fiercely denied by Democrats, who noted that no Senator in their party has ever expressed support for BDS.

Before the vote on Tuesday, Rubio pushed back against criticism that his bill against boycotts of Israel and the settlements was harmful to free speech.

“Opposition to our bill isn’t about free speech. Companies are free to boycott Israel. But local and state governments should be free to end contracts with companies that do,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Defending his claim about Democrats in the Senate supporting BDS, Rubio wrote: “Many claim they oppose BDS. But shielding BDS from counter-boycotts is de facto support of BDS.”

AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, told Haaretz on Tuesday it won’t comment on Rubio’s claim that many Senate Democrats support BDS.

The organization takes pride in promoting bipartisan support for Israel and tries to stay away from partisan debates in the Senate. It also strongly supported the legislation Rubio promoted.