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Democrats brush off Rep. Omar’s push for Israel boycott, target BDS movement instead

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, introduced a resolution this week that would affirm

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, introduced a resolution this week that would affirm “Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad.” (Associated Press/File)

Jewish Democrats brushed off Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Israel boycott resolution this week and instead kept their focus on their own resolution to denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Ms. Omar, a vocal critic of Israel and a BDS advocate, introduced a resolution this week that would affirm “Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad.”

The resolution has only six co-sponsors so far, all Democrats, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a fellow “Squad” member and BDS supporter, and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

The resolution makes no explicit mention of the BDS movement, but Ms. Omar, who has been repeatedly accused of using anti-Semitic tropes of secret Jewish money and Israel “hypnotiz[ing]” the world, invoked it in an interview with Al-Monitor as she introduced her resolution.

“We are introducing a resolution … to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights in regard to boycotting,” she told the outlet. “It is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat and one of the more senior Jewish lawmakers in the chamber, told The Washington Times that the resolution was “dead on arrival.”

One Democratic lawmaker told The Times she “wasn’t pleased” with Ms. Omar’s resolution and didn’t think it would gain much traction in the House.

Mr. Sherman didn’t say he was offended by the resolution. If he was hurt by every insult at Israel, he said, then “I would spend my whole life offended.”

Rep. Eilot L. Engel, a New York Democrat, senior Jewish lawmaker and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he didn’t want to comment specifically on Ms. Omar’s resolution but denounced the BDS movement as a “horror” and a “cancer.”

“I think the BDS movement is harmful, and anyone that promotes it is making a big mistake,” he said.

House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, strongly condemned the BDS movement at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March as controversy swirled around remarks by Ms. Omar, among other things, that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.”

In the meantime, Jewish lawmakers are focused on a resolution that would explicitly denounce the BDS movement and call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute instead of a single Arab-majority state “from the river to the sea.”

“The BDS Movement promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace and a two-state solution,” it reads.

Several lawmakers told The Times they expect a vote on the resolution next week.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress for strengthening our relationship with our vital ally Israel, the leading democracy in the Middle East,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement.

However, some liberal lawmakers said the resolution could infringe on First Amendment rights. Ms. Tlaib even called it unconstitutional.

Mr. Sherman pushed back on that argument, saying people are free to boycott but free speech does not require endorsement of particular content.

“What I regret most is [Ms. Omar‘s] claim that somehow free speech requires that people say what she wants to say,” he said. “The idea to say that in order to protect American free speech we must say that we hate Israel is bizarre.”

Some lawmakers are concerned that a vote could put Democrats in a vulnerable spot, particularly after President Trump’s heavy criticism of Ms. Omar for the past week.

“Given the acrimony that the president has been spewing lately, anything that adds gasoline to that fire is not helpful. And I think that will potentially add gasoline to the fire,” Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat and co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, told The Times.

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