Senate advances bill codifying Israel aid, protecting states that shun Israel boycotters


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate advanced a Middle East policy bill that codifies assistance for Israel and protects states that ban dealings with Israel boycotters.

The Senate voted Monday 74-19 to advance the bill, introduced earlier this month by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

It includes language that codifies into law the $38 billion over a decade that President Barack Obama pledged to Israel in the final months of his term in 2016.

It also adds legal protections to states that penalize businesses that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

The bills other components reinforce the U.S.-Jordan relationship and add sanctions on Syria’s Assad regime. All four components resurrect bills that failed to pass in the last Congress.

This is the fourth time in a month that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sent the bill to the Senate floor. All three previous times Democrats deprived McConnell of the 60-vote majority he needed to advance the bill, saying that the first order of business for the government must be to reopen government. President Donald Trump kept government shut for 35 days, demanding $5.7 billion for his planned wall with Mexico. He agreed to reopen the government last week without the wall funding.

Some Democrats also objected to the anti-BDS component, saying it impinges on speech freedoms. “While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Monday on Twitter after voting not to advance the bill.

Among Democrats voting not to advance the bill were a number of declared or likely presidential candidates, including Sanders, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey were absent and did not vote. Harris told CNN she would likely vote against the bill because of free speech concerns with its BDS component.

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