GOP lawmakers demand Democrats vote to condemn BDS movement

May 15, 2019 GMT

House Republicans demanded Wednesday that Democrats take major action to confront anti-Semitism within their own ranks and said one way to do that is to approve a bill to counter the growing Israel boycott movement.

GOP leaders announced a petition drive to try to force a vote on a bill affirming localities’ ability to refuse to do business with people or entities who ascribe to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The legislation cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote earlier this year, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept it bottled up.

Republicans said Mrs. Pelosi could go a long way toward answering accusations of growing anti-Semitism within her caucus by passing the bill.


“We’re seeing this alarming trend, this growing trend, of anti-Semitism,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise said. “Even here in the United States and in fact, unfortunately, even here the United States Congress, where you have members of Congress expressing anti-Semitic views on a regular basis now.”

BDS seeks to pressure businesses and governments to stop engaging with Israel to protest the country’s relations with its Palestinian population.

Democratic leaders have said they don’t support the movement and would like to condemn it, but have struggled to figure out a way to do so without exposing rifts within their caucus.

Republicans said they want to give Democrats eager to speak against BDS an option through the “discharge petition.”

If they can get signatures from a majority of members of the House it would force a vote on a House version of the Senate’s anti-BDS bill.

By signing the petition, Republicans argued, Democrats can show they stand with Israel.

“Do not let your leadership stop you,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

The GOP push comes as new controversy surrounds Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the two Muslim women in Congress.

Ms. Tlaib faces new accusations of anti-Semitism after her remarks in an interview last week that she had a “calming feeling” when thinking about the role her Palestinian ancestors played in creating a “safe haven” for Jews after the Holocaust.

Republicans said her remarks were offensive and ahistorical.

Democratic leaders stood by Ms. Tlaib, saying her comments were being misconstrued. They demanded Republicans apologize for being outraged.

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer dismissed the petition drive as a stunt.


“The discharge petition I think is more about politics than being serious about the substance of the issue,” the Maryland Democrat said.

He and other party leaders said they want to see the House take different action on BDS and want to see Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel produce legislation “in the very near future.”

“We are going to support the efforts of Eliot Engel to utilize regular order to resolve the BDS issue. Personally, I’m strongly opposed to the BDS issue,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said.

Republicans need 21 Democrats to sign on to their petition drive to bring the bill to the floor, and they point to pool of potential signers in the 30 or so Democrats who were working on a similar bill last year.

Mr. Scalise said he wanted to get 100 signatures on the bill Wednesday as a start.

“Let’s get those members that continue to voice their opposition to the BDS movement to put their signature where their mouth is and sign the discharge petition,” he said.