Anti-BDS legislation advances in Senate

Virginia Sen. Richard Saslaw (left, photo by Jared Foretek) and his primary challenger, human rights lawyer Yasmine Taeb (courtesy of Facebook).

A bill protecting states that punish businesses for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel advanced in the U.S. Senate Monday, with some notable Democratic presidential contenders voting no.

In a 74-19 vote, the Senate approved the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019. But some declared or potential Democratic 2020 hopefuls stood in opposition to the bill, which affirmed the right of state and local governments to stop giving contracts to businesses that support BDS.

Among those voting no were Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) were absent.

Those who oppose the anti-BDS legislation contend that it infringes on free speech protected by the First Amendment.

“While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

Anti-BDS legislation is also playing out on the local level. This month, former Maryland state Del. Saqib Ali joined the Council for American Islamic Relations in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Larry Hogan’s anti-BDS executive order, which denies government contracts to businesses that support the BDS movement.

And in Virginia, where state Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-District 35) is facing his first primary challenge in 40 years, the question of anti-BDS legislation has arisen. Human rights lawyer Yasmine Taeb is contending for the Democratic nomination in June’s primary.

Taeb, a member of the Democratic National Committee, says that Saslaw is too conservative and cozy with business interests.
The district includes Falls Church and parts of Fairfax and Alexandria.

Saslaw’s campaign, however, is pointing to a questionnaire Taeb filled out to earn an endorsement from the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. In it, Taeb expresses opposition to anti-BDS legislation like that passed in Maryland through executive order.

In the questionnaire, provided to Washington Jewish Week by the Saslaw campaign, Taeb sides with the American Civil Liberties Union, opposing anti-BDS legislation on First Amendment grounds.

“I stand with the ACLU and millions of Americans across the country and do not support legislation that would criminalize/penalize the support of BDS, which would then be an infringement on First Amendment rights,” Taeb wrote in the questionnaire.

Saslaw’s campaign declined to comment.

But Taeb, who has said she was 6 years old when her family fled Iran to Florida, wrote in a statement to WJW, “I am a refugee and human rights lawyer who has spent my entire career fighting to empower vulnerable minority groups, bring our communities together across division, and defend our Constitutional rights. … I do not participate in, nor have I advocated for, the BDS campaign.”

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JTA News and Features contributed to this report.

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