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America's last? First Senate bill of 2019 aims to protect Israel from boycott, report reveals

America's last? First Senate bill of 2019 aims to protect Israel from boycott, report reveals
With the start of the 2019 legislative session, one might hope the US Senate would prioritize ending the two-week government shutdown. Instead, the Senate’s first bill of the year reportedly aims to protect Israel from boycotts.

According to The Intercept, the first piece of legislation to be rolled out by the 2019 GOP-controlled Senate will give the US government the authority to cut ties with companies that choose to boycott Israel. The not-very-America-first decree is part of a series of foreign policy-related measures which will make up S.1 – the designation given to the symbolically important first bill of the session.

The boycott-banning legislation has apparently taken precedence over the ongoing government shutdown – already the third-longest on record, shuttering nine departments and leaving hundreds of thousands of government workers without paychecks.

With Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) as the lead sponsor, the Combating BDS Act is expected to receive bipartisan support. Coincidentally, punishing corporations and individuals who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is a top legislative priority for AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. The bill was previously introduced (but never passed) last year, and gave state and local governments the authority to refuse to do business with US firms participating in a boycott against Israel. Similar anti-BDS legislation has already been adopted in 26 states. So far, two federal courts have ruled that punishing companies or individuals who boycott goods produced in Israel violates constitutionally-protected rights under the First Amendment.

S.1 is purportedly being specially drafted to avoid similar legal challenges – but has already come under fire from civil liberties groups. In a comment provided to The Intercept, the ACLU said that the bill would “weaken Americans’ First Amendment protections” and “sends a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government” – or Israel, for that matter.

Many on Twitter expressed disgust that senators were giving Israel priority over their own constituents.


If the bill passes the Senate, it would then go before the Democrat-controlled House, where Nancy Pelosi may have to choose between her ardent support for Israel – or freedom of speech.

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