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Senate passes bipartisan pro-Israel, anti-BDS bill

The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, and boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan.

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel.

It also includes an amendment that warned against a “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Syria or Afghanistan.

The final tally was 77-23. The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senators who voted against the motion included Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The bill passed the upper chamber after weeks of Senate Democrats blocked three consecutive motions to invoke cloture due to the partial government shutdown that lasted 35 days over U.S. President Donald Trump not getting any money for a border wall with Mexico. Only last week did the Senate finally invoke cloture.

Soon thereafter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment warning the president against withdrawing American troops from Syria expeditiously.

The McConnell amendment passed cloture on Monday.

The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act rolls four bills, plus McConnell’s amendment, into one.

The Combating BDS Act has sparked opposition from Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has said that it would violate the First Amendment. Senators such as Gillibrand, Van Hollen, Warren, Feinstein and Sanders have also expressed opposition, citing the ACLU’s concerns.

However, the Israeli American Council’s political arm, IAC for Action said: “This is an important day in the fight against the hate movement commonly referred to as BDS. [The bill] will strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and ensure that the bigotry and discrimination fostered by the BDS is not subsidized by taxpayer dollars.”

“The passage of this legislation is an important victory against the BDS movement, which seeks to inflict economic harm on the State of Israel and its people,” said American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen. “BDS not only hurts Israelis of all religions, ethnicities and political beliefs, but also hurts countless Palestinians employed by Israeli businesses.”

The Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2019 strives to ensure that Israel is capable of defending itself against threats such as Hamas and Iran, including the regime’s proxies that includes Hezbollah. The bill, named for the longtime former Florida Republican congresswoman and staunch Israel ally, would increase U.S. security assistance to Israel to $38 billion over a decade as agreed to under U.S. President Barack Obama.

The United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act ensures continued American support for a vital regional ally.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 sanctions crucial targets of Syrian President Bashar Assad regime’s revenue, in addition to targeting Russian efforts in Syria that have enabled in civilian deaths during a seven-year civil war that some have labeled as a genocide by Assad.

Organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel applauded the bill’s passage.

“AIPAC applauds the U.S. Senate for adopting the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), which contains critical pro-Israel provisions,” said the organization in a statement. “These provisions—contained in one of the first major bipartisan bills adopted by the Senate this year—pledge security assistance to Israel and clarify that state and local governments have the right to counter boycotts of Israel.”

“This was a clarifying vote for millions of pro-Israel Americans. CUFI extends its thanks and gratitude to the overwhelming majority of senators of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation,” said CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee.

“At the same time, we are dismayed with the extremists who went on the record in opposition to the military aid package to Israel and common-sense steps to combat the vile and anti-Semitic BDS movement,” he continued. “Despite their determined efforts, this bill is moving forward. And we look forward to its steady advancement toward President Trump’s desk.”

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