April 4, 2019
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted not to condemn the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS). Here’s what you need to know about that vote.
On Thursday morning, Republicans unexpectedly called on members of Congress to vote on whether they support or oppose BDS. The motion, suddenly introduced without any time for discussion, stalled a vote to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen. Called a “Motion to Recommit” (MTR), the maneuver is a device for the minority party to thwart a bill being offered by trying to add to or replace it with something else, without any notice or discussion.
An MTR is routinely used to embarrass a political party for voting a particular way, since the hastily cast votes often fall along party lines. The only exception to that rule in the last decade has been the resolution in February to condemn anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, following anti-Semitic tweets by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). In a nearly unprecedented move, Democrats decided to join Republicans in voting for that MTR, which passed 424-0.
Vote didn’t reflect opinions on BDS
The MTR sought to amend the Yemen war resolution with a condemnation of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. The amendment was defeated with 228 voting against it, including two Republicans, and 194 voting in favor, including five Democrats.
A majority of Democrats, including staunch supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship, refused to go along with the Republicans’ tactic, and many decried that support for the Jewish state was being politicized. Also factoring into the vote was the threat that the MTR posed to the resolution on Yemen.
Prior to the vote, the second-highest ranking House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), denounced the BDS Movement but panned the MTR, saying Republicans risked undermining decades of bipartisan support for Israel.
“How shameful. How sad. The American people will not be fooled or misled by this tactic,” Hoyer said on the House floor. “Our fellow supporters of Israel will not be fooled. No one can accuse me of failing to defend the U.S. Israel partnership and strongly opposing BDS. … And I urge every Republican who believes that using Israel as a partisan cudgel is dangerous, cynical and harmful to Israel, to join me in voting against this motion.”
Julie Rayman, AJC Director of Political Outreach, said the partisan maneuver accomplished what it was intended to do. Democrats are now technically on record as refusing to denounce the BDS Movement, and that’s simply not fair, she said.
“It’s an easy (and unfair) way to paint the Democrats as anti-Israel,” she said.
While the BDS Movement describes itself as a nonviolent campaign aimed at getting Israel to adhere to certain demands, including a withdrawal from what it calls “Arab lands,” its leadership openly seeks the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas introduced the MTR and urged his colleagues to condemn BDS as an enemy of Israel.
“The BDS Movement is not about equality. It is not about peace,” McCaul said. “It is about undermining negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and it is about placing all the blame on one party, and that is Israel. We do not support a movement that demands concessions from one party alone. We do not stand with a movement that seeks to isolate and shame our strongest ally in the Middle East. By weakening Israel, the global BDS Movement endangers American security.”
Shortly after the MTR was introduced on the House floor, AJC tweeted this appeal for a more thoughtful debate: “For years in Congress, fighting anti-Semitism and other bigotries and strengthening the U.S. -Israel alliance were causes maintained and bolstered through bipartisanship. When disagreement exists, open discussion and debate—through regular procedures—is the way to reach consensus.”