JERUSALEM, Israel — The US Senate voted Monday to move forward with a Middle East bill that would impose new sanctions on Syria and fight the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel.
The Republican-led Senate voted 74-19 to advance the legislation. However, Democrats were split 24-19. The final vote to determine if the legislation will become law will take place later in the coming days.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced the bill to Congress but had to wait until the government shutdown was over to move forward.
"The Senate will once again move to take up our bill to support Israel, give local and state governments the right to boycott BDS and punish human rights abuses in Syria," Rubio tweeted. "Democrats said they were blocking it until shutdown ended. So no excuse not to move to it now."
The legislation gives states and local governments the permission to stop doing business with companies who boycott and divest from Israel.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I-VT) calls the anti-BDS bill "absurd."
"It's absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity," he tweeted earlier in January.
Other Democrats see the bill as a violation of free speech.
"I oppose it because it limits the right of individuals to express themselves," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said prior to the vote, referring to the BDS provision. "I don't think it's anti-Semitic [to vote no] It's because of the Bill of Rights."
However, Rubio argues the bill is about standing "strong with our allies"
The bill also imposes new sanctions on Syria.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the bill's new sanctions against Syria "makes a crystal-clear statement to the Syrian regime and those who abet it: Your brutality needs to end."