The US House of Representatives passed a resolution yesterday to sanction Hamas and another to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
House Resolution 1850 entitled "Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2019" would impose sanctions upon individuals or agencies identified as supporting Hamas or its affiliates. Sponsored by Florida Republican Brian Mast, the bill requires the US President to submit a yearly report to Congress that identifies "each foreign or agency or instrumentality of a foreign state" that supports Hamas financially.
Mast, who volunteered for the Israeli army after his US army service, said in a statement, "Hamas is single-handedly responsible for the deaths of numerous Americans and Israelis. These sanctions send a strong message to anybody who supports these radicals preaching the destruction of Israel and death to everything we hold dear in the United States."
The bill was passed by a motion to suspend the rules, a procedure generally used to pass resolutions quickly, and not by a roll call vote in which each representative gives their individual vote.
On the same day, the House passed a resolution opposing BDS in a roll call vote of 398 to 17. House Resolution 246 "opposes the BDS movement targeting Israel, including efforts to target US companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under US law, and all efforts to delegitimise the State of Israel."
This bill was met with strong opposition from some progressive members of the Democratic Party, including Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib and Somali-American Ilhan Omar. Tlaib gave an impassioned speech on the House floor arguing that the resolution would infringe upon freedom of speech: "I can't stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government in the state of Israel." She referred to historic boycotts in American history, such as the Boston Tea Party, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the United Farm Workers Grape Boycott, as examples of how "the right to boycott is deeply rooted in the fabric of our country."
Though the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the anti-BDS resolution, notable representatives who voted "nay" include three quarters of the "squad": Tlaib, Omar and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The other member of the "squad", Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, voted "yea" on the resolution.
The passing of this resolution drew much criticism on social media, with the BDS movement calling it a "McCarthyite, anti-Palestinian measure" and anti-occupation group IfNotNow criticising the Democratic Leadership for allowing this vote to happen only a day after Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in occupied Jerusalem.
Last week, Omar introduced House Resolution 496 affirming the American right to boycott. The resolution doesn't specifically refer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is heralded by the BDS movement as a "ground-breaking resolution" that defends "freedom of expression and the right of oppressed communities… to peacefully fight for their rights."
Omar's bill is co-sponsored by nine other Democratic representatives, including Pressley, civil rights activist John Lewis and New Jersey Representative Donald Payne. However, these three voted for the anti-BDS bill yesterday, raising questions about their positions on the issue.