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US House passes anti-BDS bill by a vote of 398 to 17

Rationale for the bill

Critics of BDS claim it is against US policy and is harmful to the two-state solution in the Middle East supported by the US.

The BDS campaign is meant to put pressure on Israel over the occupation of Palestine. Specifically it puts economic pressure to cease some of its activities against Palestinians as part of the occupation.

Wikipedia describes the BDS in more detail as follows: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (also known as BDS) is a Palestinian-led campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as Israel’s obligations under international law, defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and “respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”.

Critics of the BDS movement claim that Israel is not an apartheid state and that there is no imposed segregation. Many critics also charge BDS is anti-Semitic.

US has long followed a pro-Israel policy on the issue

While movements boycotting countries are not that unusual, since 1977 when the Office of Antiboycott Compliance was set up, the US, especially individual states, began passing laws that try to prevent US citizens and companies from joining the BDS movement. The US has been eager to get on the record as being anti-BDS even though the House bill does not bar individuals from getting involved in the movement.

Considerable anti-BDS activity at the state level

There are now anti-BDS laws in many states with the language of the bills sometimes almost identical: “A rapid succession of states — 27 in four years — have adopted measures to curb the boycott initiative known as BDS.These new laws and executive orders have been crafted by activists, then copied from one state to the next, adopted with virtually identical language. Most require tens of thousands of state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel — or lose their government funding. Other efforts require state pension boards to divest from companies that boycott Israel.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued the bills are unconstitutional and they have been ruled as such in three states: “Last week a federal district court in Texas blocked as unconstitutional a state law that required government contractors to certify that they did not boycott Israel and would not do so over the course of their contract. With courts in Arizona and Kansas issuing similar rulings last year, that’s now three federal courts that have protected the right to engage in First Amendment-protected political boycotts—including boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements.”

Ilhan Omar’s resolution

Omar, a Democratic representative, offered a competing resolution which expressed support for the right of Americans to boycott other nations, including Israel. Democratic leaders claimed the resolution was “dead on arrival” even though historically boycotts have been considered part of Americans’ right to free speech. That position is held by the ACLU and at least some US courts. Yet Omar’s resolution is not likely to raise serious discussion in committee let alone reach a proper vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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