Senate Republicans’ 1st bill on Israel boycotts divides Democrats

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and would need Democratic votes to advance the measure over the 60-vote threshold. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
0

Senate Republicans’ 1st bill on Israel boycotts divides Democrats

  • Democrats are split over the addition of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Combatting BDS Act,” which seeks to counter the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel
  • The bill comes amid the partial government shutdown, and Democrats say they will block it until government is reopened

WASHINGTON: Senate Republicans’ first bill of the new Congress aims to insert the legislative branch into President Donald Trump’s Middle East policy — but also tries to drive a wedge between centrist and liberal Democrats over attitudes toward Israel.
The bipartisan package backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had initially drawn widespread support ahead of Tuesday’s vote. It includes measures supporting Israel and Jordan and slapping sanctions on Syrians involved in war crimes. But Democrats are split over the addition of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Combatting BDS Act,” which seeks to counter the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and the settlements.
For now, the package will almost certainly stall. The bill comes amid the partial government shutdown, and Democrats say they will block it until government is reopened.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will oppose proceeding to the legislation, according to a senior aide who was unauthorized to speak publicly about the vote and spoke on condition of anonymity. Other Democratic senators who also support the bills will likely follow suit.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., tweeted that the Senate “should not take up any bills unrelated to reopening the government” until the shutdown is resolved.
But Republicans see an opening to focus on newly elected House Democrats, including the country’s first Palestinian American woman in Congress, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has spoken about the rights of Americans to support the BDS issue.
“This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality,” Tlaib said in a weekend tweet. “Maybe a refresher on our US Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”
Israel sees a growing threat from the BDS movement, which has led to increased boycotts of the Jewish state in support of the Palestinians. A Woodstock-style concert was canceled and some companies stopped offering services in the West Bank settlements. That has led to a “boycott of the boycotts” as Israel pushes back against those aligned with BDS.
In support of Israel, Rubio’s bills would affirm the legal authority of state and local governments to restrict contracts and take other actions against those “engaged in BDS conduct.” Several states are facing lawsuits after taking action against workers supporting BDS boycotts of Israel.
Opponents say Rubio’s measure infringes on free speech. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, tweeted, “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.”
But Rubio’s office says the bill allows the governments “to counter economic warfare against Israel.”
Rubio, a Florida senator, said Monday in a series of tweets, including one pointed at Sanders and Tlaib: “The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill.... A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”
Both sides are squaring off ahead of Tuesday’s votes. A coalition of civil liberties and liberal Jewish groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and J Street, is working to defeat the legislation, while the influential pro-Israel AIPAC supports it.
“Any contention that the bill infringes upon First Amendment rights is simply wrong,” said AIPAC’s Marshall Wittman by email. “It ensures Israel has the means necessary to defend itself-by itself-against growing threats and helps protect the right of states to counter boycotts against Israel.”
J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement: “While millions of Americans suffer from the effects of the ongoing government shutdown, it’s outrageous that Senate Republican leaders are prioritizing legislation that tramples on the First Amendment and advances the interests of the Israeli settlement movement. Not a single Democrat should vote to enable this farce.”
Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and would need Democratic votes to advance the measure over the 60-vote threshold.


Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

Updated 20 July 2019
0

Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

  • At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week
  • South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season

GAUHATI, India: The death toll in monsoon flooding in South Asia has risen to 152 as millions of people and animals continue to face the brunt in three countries, officials said Saturday.
At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week. A dozen have been killed in Bangladesh.
Shiv Kumar, a government official in Assam, said 10 rare one-horned rhinos have died in Kaziranga National Park since the Brahmaputra River burst its banks, flooding the reserve.
Some 4.8 million people spread over 3,700 villages across the state are still affected by the floods, though the frequency of rains has decreased in the past 24 hours, the Assam Disaster Response Authority said. More than 2.5 million have also been hit by flooding in India’s Bihar state.
Amid the flooding, 20-year-old Imrana Khatoon delivered her first baby on a boat in floodwaters early Friday while on her way to a hospital in Assam’s flooded Gagalmari village, locals said. The woman and the newborn were brought back to their home without getting to the hospital.
Community health worker Parag Jyoti Das, who visited the family, said there were no post-delivery health complications. However, the mother and the child were moved to a hospital on a boat to the nearby town of Jhargaon because of unhygienic conditions due to floodwaters, Das said. The health center in Khatoon’s village was flooded and closed.
“I would have felt happier if the baby’s father was here,” said Khatoon, whose husband works in a hotel in the southern state of Kerala.
More than 147,000 people have taken shelter in 755 government-run camps across Assam, officials said.
Authorities warned they would take action against suppliers who were reported to be distributing poor quality rice and other essentials to marooned people and inmates of temporary shelters at some places.
“We have ordered the arrest of those unscrupulous elements supplying substandard materials and playing with the lives of the affected people,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance minister.
In Nepal, the Home Ministry said about 36,728 families were affected by the monsoon rains. The flooding and mudslides forced some 13,000 families to flee their homes.
In at least two of Nepal’s districts, helicopters were used to transport emergency food supplies, while other transport means were being used to move tents and other supplies to the victims.
South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season.