JERUSALEM, Israel – The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to condemn the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
House Resolution 246 passed on a 398-17 vote and put lawmakers on record about where they stand on the BDS movement. Five lawmakers voted "present" and 12 others did not vote.
House Democrats created the legislation to condemn "all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel" and urge "Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The bill also "affirms that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure."
Sixteen out of the seventeen lawmakers who voted against the resolution were Democrats, including freshman congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Last week, Ilhan Omar introduced a House resolution that does not explicitly mention Israel or BDS but opposed "unconstitutional and legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad."
Tlaib condemned Tuesday's bill, saying she "can't stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government in the State of Israel."
"Our right to free speech is being threatened with this resolution. It sets a dangerous precedent because it attempts to delegitimize a certain people's political speech and to send a message that our government can and will take action against speech it doesn't like," Tlaib said in her floor speech before the vote.
She also compared the BDS movement to America boycotting Nazi Germany "in response to dehumanization, imprisonment, and genocide of Jewish people."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) voted for the legislation and argued during floor debate that BDS is not a justice movement nor a First Amendment issue.
"Here's the thing about the global BDS movement: I don't believe it promotes racial justice or social change at all. It promotes a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that seeks to marginalize Israel, that would deny the Jewish people the right of national self-determination," Engel said.
"You want to criticize a government, that's your right. You want to stop buying products from a certain country, that's also your right. But participating in an international commercial effort that undermines Israel's legitimacy and scuttles the chances of a two-state solution isn't the same as an individual exercising First Amendment rights," Engel added.
Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan called the vote "an important achievement in the struggle against the delegitimization and anti-Semitism within BDS."
The passing of the bill is just the latest example of governments condemning BDS. Germany's parliament passed a resolution in May which called BDS an anti-Semitic movement and urged Germany's government avoid working with organizations that promote it.
The House also voted on Tuesday in favor of a bill to sanction Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups who preach "the destruction of Israel and death to everything we hold dear in the United States."