Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on January 7 introduced S. 1 along with Senators James Risch (R-ID), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but the bill was stalled on Tuesday when a motion to invoke cloture and vote on final passage failed to gain the required 3/5 majority. Fifty-six senators from both parties voted in favor of the motion, while 44 voted against.
S. 1 is a collection of Middle East-related bipartisan bills that had been introduced during the previous Congress, but were never voted on before the end of the term. These include the Combating BDS Act, the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.
The Combating BDS Act would prevent the federal government from preempting state and local government-passed laws that prohibit contracting with individuals or businesses that boycott Israel and Israeli-owed businesses.
According to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), opponents of the bill falsely claimed that it infringes upon free speech, even though the text of the bill itself plainly states “Nothing in this title shall be construed to infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
The bill’s opponents included Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who stated, “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity.”
The ACLU also came out against the bill as an infringement on the First Amendment.
Sarah Stern, the founder and president of EMET pushed back, arguing “At a time when anti-Israel hate groups are using economic warfare against the sole Jewish State, it is critical that the US Senate stand with Israel by passing S.1. Combating the anti-Semitic BDS movement should not be a controversial issue. This bill does not prevent individuals from participating in their first amendment rights, but simply allows states and local governments to divest from entities that are engaged in discriminatory practices against the State of Israel.”
Twenty-six US states have passed anti-BDS laws in the state legislatures, often by large, bipartisan majorities. Many states enforce anti-discrimination rules when determining eligibility for government contracts, or prohibit boycotts based on race and national origin. The New York Human Rights Law is an example of the latter.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill’s sponsor, accused Democrats of seeking to avoid a tough vote on Israel when an increasingly large segment of the Democratic party supports the BDS movement.
“The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to the Middle East Security Bill,” Rubio tweeted. “A significant [number] of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”