By Alina Dain Sharon
A planned briefing on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on Capitol Hill scheduled for Sept. 16 was cancelled after the lawmaker, who had anonymously sponsored the forum, withdrew her support.
The office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has claimed that the room booked for the event was done so by a former staffer no longer working for her.
The event was described as the first-ever forum in support of BDS on Capitol Hill – titled “What Is BDS? A Capitol Hill Briefing.”
"This was done without the knowledge of anyone in the office. We've taken our name off of booking the room. We weren't involved with planning,” Jackson Lee's Communications Director Mike McQuerry told the Weekly Standard.
Leaders of the umbrella Jewish group Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday expressed outrage and dismay at the briefing, issuing a statement that no lawmaker should “countenance” the “bigoted” and “anti-Semitic” movement.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of group, told JNS.org that the briefing wasn’t meant to be a forum for a legitimate discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, or over differing opinions on Israeli policy.
“We have to be clear that that’s not what this is about,” he said. Instead BDS supporters “don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. They ask of Israel things they don’t ask of any other country. That’s discrimination. That’s bigotry.”
Jackson Lee’s office likely went public with the congresswoman’s involvement, and cancelled the briefing, in response to criticism by Jewish groups and other congressional staffers. In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon before the event’s cancelation, a congressional aide familiar with the briefing questioned “who is responsible for using taxpayer dollars to fund such virulently anti-Semitic propaganda? Maybe they should host a briefing on how Hamas spends $40 million annually on building tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis.”
BDS denies the Jewish character and history of Israel, and “no group that would profess such discriminatory policy should be given the legitimacy of the congress of the U.S,” Hoenlein added. “You wouldn’t allow the Ku Klux Klan to hold a session in Congress.”
BDS supporters described the event as the “First Pro-BDS Capitol Hill Briefing” in history. An invitation to the event, obtained by the Free Beacon, stated the “briefing will offer Capitol Hill its first opportunity to hear directly from Americans who support BDS and organize BDS campaigns.”
Jackson Lee’s office was not familiar with the group that sponsored the event, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which has been described by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “a coalition of anti-Israel groups that promotes divestment from Israeli companies, organizes anti-Israel events, and lobbies the U.S,” McQuerry said.
The group has also recently gained attention for hosting a July speech by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), in which he compared Jews who live in Jewish communities across the pre-1967 lines to “termites.” He later apologized for the remark.
The congressional aide interviewed by the Free Beacon said that there is widespread support for Israel and dislike of BDS on Capitol Hill, and the cancellation proves that the movement is losing its momentum.
On Sept. 9 Congress hosted a conference against the activities of BDS movement on American college campuses. The conference, attended by Jewish leaders and more than 100 lawmakers, including Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN), was organized by the Shomron Regional Council's foreign relations office.
“Many would have liked to believe that anti-Semitism died after World War II, but unfortunately anti-Semitism is again rearing its ugly head in the form of BDS,” Lamborn said, the Algemeiner reported.
Paulsen said Palestinians "need to realize that the key to greater freedom, autonomy, prosperity and peace is a growing economy. That can only come through a strong economic partnership and relationship with Israel. The people who are pushing the BDS movement are the exact same people who don't want peace and stability in the region.”
The pro-BDS event’s cancellation follows legislation in several states in recent months outlawing financial support for BDS-supporting companies or organizations. In June Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York issued the first-ever executive order on the U.S. state level prohibiting any state agency or authority from engaging in a boycott of Israel, or promoting BDS movement activities. More than a dozen other states, such as New Jersey and California, have followed.
In August the American Jewish Committee (AJC) also launched a bipartisan campaign against the BDS movement, calling on 50 state governors to condemn BDS and reaffirm that Israel’s an indispensable U.S. ally and economic partner and declaring that BDS seeks “to isolate Israel—a pluralistic nation with deep cultural, familial, security, educational, scientific and commercial bonds with our state and with the United States as a whole—rather than recognize the profound mutual benefits of our engagement with it.”
The campaign, called Governor’s United Against BDS, is co-chaired by Gov. Cuomo, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Governor Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut.
AJC “is in constant touch with members of Congress and their staff on the misinformation and bias propounded by the BDS movement, and are vigorous advocates of legislation at the national and state levels that would discourage moves to boycott the Middle East’s sole democracy,” the group told JNS.org.