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Senate Democrats block pro-Israel, anti-BDS bill for second time in a week

The final tally was 53-43. At least four Democrats voted for cloture: Arizona’s Krysten Sinema, Alabama’s Doug Jones, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez.

U.S. Senate in session on Jan. 10, 2019. Credit: Screenshot.
U.S. Senate in session on Jan. 10, 2019. Credit: Screenshot.

For the second time this week, Senate Democrats failed to reach the necessary 60 votes on Thursday afternoon to end debate on Republican-introduced legislation that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, as well as boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan amid the announced gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. It is also aimed at tackling the anti-Israel BDS movement.

The final tally was 53-43.

At least four Democrats voted for cloture: Arizona’s Krysten Sinema, Alabama’s Doug Jones, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez.

On Tuesday, the Senate failed to proceed to start the clock, which is no more than an additional 30 hours of debate, to then proceed to vote on the bill that would also reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015 to help the Hashemite Kingdom respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, fight the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and protect its borders with Iraq and Syria.

Democrats have objected to move with the bill due to the partial government shutdown that has lasted 19 days due to U.S. President Donald Trump refusing to sign funding legislation that includes at least $5.6 billion for a border wall with Mexico.

“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,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.

“Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government,” he continued. “Let’s get our priorities right.”

“Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government,” tweeted Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!”

In response to the criticism to not vote on the bill until the rest of the government is funded, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a sponsor of the measure, said before Thursday’s vote, “I don’t understand the logic of it,” and said that it will cause people to question those who say they are outraged by the situation in Syria and support Israel.

He compared the excuse to not invoke cloture on the bill to those who don’t go to work the day after their favorite sports team loses. “I don’t know how to explain that,” he said.

Finally, the bill would enable state and local governments in the United States to fight the anti-Israel BDS movement.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America has supported the move by the left side of the aisle.

“Senate Republicans have abdicated their responsibility to the American people by forcing a second vote on S.1, a bill that has nothing to do with reopening the government,” said JDCA executive director Halie Soifer in a statement. “After consideration of this bill was blocked on Tuesday, Senate Republicans’ decision to hold a second vote on the same bill is a clear effort to defer reopening the government and politicize U.S. support for Israel.”

“Senate Democrats support aid to Israel and unanimously oppose the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement—these two issues are not in question,” she continued. “The government shutdown imposes grave and growing social, economic and security risks on the American people. JDCA stands behind Senate Democrats’ insistence that the Senate prioritize opening the government, and demands that Senate Republicans stop politicizing historically bipartisan support for Israel.”

However, B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin and the Endowment for Middle East Truth disagreed.

“This bill speaks to two crucial Jewish community priorities: fighting BDS and supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship,” he told JNS. “Those concerns have been, are now and will continue to be at the forefront of the Jewish policy agenda, regardless of the unrelated impasse that has led to the current government shutdown.”

“We are profoundly disappointed that this critically important package of legislative initiatives is being held hostage by the U.S. Senate,” said EMET founder and president Sarah Stern to JNS.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee struck a hopeful tone: “We strongly support this legislation, which contains pro-Israel provisions that have previously gained wide bipartisan support, and we continue to urge the Senate to move as quickly as possible to adopt it,” spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JNS.

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