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US senator reintroduces anti-BDS legislation

Senator Marco Rubio's bill would give congressional support to state and local governments which divest from entities that engage in BDS movement
US Senator Marco Rubio speaks during a hearing on worldwide threats, in Washington, DC, on 8 March 2023 (AFP)

Republican Senator Marco Rubio has reintroduced a bill designed to support state and local governments that combat the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, after several failed attempts to pass the legislation.

If the Combating BDS Act of 2023 bill passes, it would give congressional support to state and local governments that divest funds from or prohibit contracting with entities that engage in the BDS movement.

“The BDS movement is the single most destructive campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement on Thursday. “This bill, which previously passed the Senate, would mark an important step toward bringing an end to the movement’s discriminatory efforts.”

Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, a cosponsor of the bill, said that it would provide state and local governments the tools they need to counter “the discriminatory and hate-inspired conduct of the anti-Semitic BDS movement” aimed against Israel “our closest ally in the Middle East”.

In addition to Hagerty, the bill is cosponsored by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy, Mike Braun, Rick Scott, and Steve Daines. 

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Free speech and Palestinian advocacy groups previously slammed the bill, accusing its sponsors of trying to muzzle criticism of Israel at the expense of the US Constitution. 

The BDS movement is a non-violent initiative that seeks to challenge Israel's occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights through economic, cultural, and academic boycotts similar to the successful boycott campaigns of apartheid South Africa.

Dozens of US states have passed laws that require state contractors to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. However, others have looked to challenge Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and treatment of Palestinians.

On Tuesday, new legislation was introduced in the New York State Assembly to stop charities from sending millions of dollars to Israel to support settlement activity, deemed illegal under international law. 

Rubio’s bill was first introduced in 2017 and again in 2021. It follows a recent effort by lawmakers in the House of Representatives to expand legislation to prevent US companies and individuals from participating in boycotts of countries “friendly to the US”.

The legislation, introduced by Republican representative Mike Lawler and Democratic representative Josh Gottheimer, looks to expand on previous federal law which only bars companies and individuals from participating in boycotts organised by foreign countries, Jewish Insider reported. 

The bill's text does not specifically identify Israel, but Lawler and Gottheimer said in statements that the change comes in response to the BDS movement which targets Israel.

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