Marco Rubio’s pushing a bill with bipartisan support — or at least, it used to have bipartisan support (more on that in a minute) — that would, among other things, allow state and local governments to boycott private entities who are boycotting Israel. You have every constitutional right to join the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, a.k.a. BDS, against the Jewish state; Rubio’s bill would clarify that U.S. state governments can take that into account when deciding whom they’ll enter into contracts with.
I’ll defer to my legal betters on whether that’ll hold up in court. No one has a right to a government contract, but the discrimination involved in ruling someone ineligible to compete for a contract based on their viewpoint is clear. Two courts have already held that similar state laws violate the First Amendment. If I had to bet, I’d bet Rubio’s bill would go down in flames too if it ended up passing Congress.
Either way, the obvious play for opponents of the bill is to emphasize that they dislike it for its attempt to punish free expression, not because it seeks to protect Israel specifically. That’s the Bernie Sanders approach:
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. https://t.co/rHvpBHtHI5
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 6, 2019
The Rashida Tlaib approach is … more complicated:
They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away. https://t.co/KkmqjR58ZM
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) January 7, 2019
“They forgot what country they represent” is an interesting comment for all sorts of reasons, starting with the fact that Tlaib ended up being draped with the Palestinian flag rather than the Stars and Stripes by her mother on the night she won her House primary. (She’s of Palestinian ancestry.) Philip Klein is familiar with it:
The idea of Jews as having divided loyalty, and of using their influence to convince others to act against the interests and principles of their own country, is an age-old anti-Semitic trope.
Tlaib supports anti-Israel boycotts. She also defended former CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill after he was fired for calling for the elimination of Israel and endorsing violence against Jews.
The Democratic Party has a festering anti-Semitism problem within its own ranks, and so far it seems content to look the other way and excuse the deployment of stereotypical attacks on Jews as long as they are thinly masked as mere criticism of Israel.
There’s a ready-made reply to her critics she could use if she likes: “When I said supporters of the Rubio bill forgot what country they represent, I merely meant that the bill is un-American.” But she hasn’t said that as I write this despite the fact that she’s taken flak from the right for the past 16 hours for her tweet. Maybe she feels it’d be untrue to her brand to back down when conservatives are attacking her, or maybe … she really did intend the “forgot” line to imply dual loyalty. Notes Alex Griswold, “Oddly, many of those who hear dog whistles for a living aren’t exactly perking up at Tlaib accusing her critics of dual loyalty.” It’s loud enough that I’d say it’s more of a duck call than a dog whistle. Sweaty centrist Democrats implore you to please just ignore the quacking.
Rubio’s bill was on track to pass the Senate, the rare Trump-era measure that could attract enough support from both parties to beat a filibuster. But then momentum slowed down and now not just far-left Bernie Sanders but more moderate Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin oppose it. How come? It could be that Democrats simply dislike the free-speech implications of the bill or the optics of the Senate carrying on as usual with other legislative business when there’s a shutdown to resolve. But that’s not what Rubio’s hearing:
The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill.
A huge argument broke out at Senate Dem meeting last week over BDS. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 7, 2019
Are congressional Dems finally catching up to their base in turning against Israel? Or is Rubio distorting a dispute that actually centered on whether the bill violates the First Amendment? The fight over the party platform’s views on Israel in 2020 will be fascinating if Democrats end up with a far-left nominee and if radicals like Tlaib continue to raise their national profiles. It’s high time they had that fight too. It’s been brewing for years, replete with skirmishes at the convention, but always ends up being papered over by party leaders in the name of keeping their coalition together. Let ’em show their cards. If there’s a significant faction that believes Israel usurped rightful Palestinian dominion over the territory and that nothing short of a one-state solution — which Tlaib supports, quack quack — will undo the injustice, make that clear. Let pro-Israel Democrats vote accordingly.
Fear of their coalition unraveling is why Van Hollen and Cardin switched to no on Rubio’s bill, I assume. If it passes the Senate, Pelosi will be under heavy pressure to put it on the floor of the House. How would that vote go? How much camera time would it generate for radicals like Tlaib? Today is her third business day on the job and she’s already sucker-punched her leadership not one but twice with “unhelpful” soundbites suggesting that Democratic intentions towards major initiatives like impeachment or Rubio’s bill are less noble than the party wants people to believe. The dirty little secret about all of the media attention to Pelosi’s freshmen radicals like Tlaib and AOC is that they’re far more of a hindrance to her than they’ll be to the right for years to come. Enjoy solving this problem, Nancy.