By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) – Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators parted company on a legislation that that codifies $38 billion in defense assistance to Israel and provides legal cover to states that target the boycott Israel movement. The U.S. Senate approved the bill in a 77-23 vote.
Connecticut’s Senator Richard Blumenthal voted in favor of the bill, while his counterpart, Senator Christopher Murphy, voted against it.
Describing Murphy as “a staunch, supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” his spokeswoman, Laura Maloney, told the Ledger in an email that the Connecticut senator “opposes the BDS movement, which unacceptably blurs the line between criticism of Israel and delegitimizing the very existence of the Jewish state.”
However, she said, while Murphy “has cosponsored anti-BDS legislation in the past and supports most of the provisions of this bill,” he had issues with this particular bill on constitutional grounds.
“He had hoped to be able to work out a compromise on addressing the parts of the bill he believes endorse unconstitutional restrictions on speech, as two federal courts recently ruled,” noted Maloney. “It’s unfortunate we were unable to get to such a compromise in time. Even more unfortunate is that this bill – which could have gotten the support of virtually all senators if First Amendment concerns had been taken into account – seems to have been intentionally drafted in such a way as to make this a partisan issue that intentionally politicizes support for Israel.”
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., had stirred controversy because a number of Democratic senators said that while they oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, they were also concerned that state laws aimed at BDS impinged on speech freedoms. A majority of Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill.
Among the Democratic dissenters were declared presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California. Non-declared but likely presidential contenders who voted included Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who voted against.
The only declared Democratic presidential candidate who voted in favor of the bill was Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Other Democrats voting against the bill were: Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.)
The sole Republican voting against was Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Rubio, writing Wednesday, Feb. 6 in The New York Times, defended the bill against charges that it would violate free speech. Democrats supporting the anti-BDS component included Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Democratic majority will break it up into its components, and its leadership is likely to bury the anti-BDS section while advancing the other components.
In addition to the money for Israel and the proposed anti-BDS laws, the bill intensifies sanctions on Syria’s Assad government and reinforces ties with Jordan.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) praised the Senate for passing the bill and defended the anti-BDS component and urged the House to bass all the bill’s provisions. “The legislation has no impact on the right of Americans to personally boycott Israel or oppose Israeli policies,” AIPAC said. “The bill’s scope is limited to commercial activities between companies and state and local governments.”
The American Civil Liberties Union complained that “the Senate chose politics over the Constitution and trampled on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.”
The Connecticut Jewish Ledger contributed to this report.