United States Senator Bernie Sanders has said it is “absurd” that the first bill Republicans introduced to the Senate amid a government shutdown would protect a foreign government from US citizens exercising their constitutional right to political activity.
For the past three weeks the federal government has been in shutdown, with US President Donald refusing to sign any funding legislation unless Democrats agree to allocate $5 billion for a border wall with Mexico.
Meanwhile, the first bill introduced to the new Republican-controlled Senate is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio that would give US states and local governments specific legal authority to boycott American businesses involved in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. In the US, 25 states already ban investment in companies that choose not do do business with Israel.
"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," Mr Sanders wrote on Twitter on Sunday, linking to an article by the Intercept website about the bill to defend the Israeli government from boycotts. "Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don't reopen the government. Let's get our priorities right."
An independent Jewish senator who aligns with Democrats, Mr Sanders launched a strong 2016 challenge against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr Sanders’ progressive voice in the Senate stands in contrast to the Republican majority, whose administration is widely considered the most pro-Israel in history.
The right of US companies to not do business in Israel made headlines in November after Airbnb – a California-based accommodation sharing platform – said it had removed listings for around 200 Israeli-owned properties in illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
In response, Israel’s Interior Minister Gilad Erdan called on five US states asking them to take steps against the company. Writing to the governors of California, New York, Florida, Missouri, and Illinois, Mr Erdan characterised the Airbnb decision as assuming “the anti-Semitic practices and narrative of the boycott movement”.
He asked the governors to speak out against Airbnb's decision and to take "any other relevant steps, including in relation to commercial dealings" between the company and state governments.
Airbnb later expressed its "unequivocal rejection" of the BDS movement but said it would not reverse its decision to ban accommodation listings in West Bank Jewish settlements.
The BDS movement is a global campaign seeking to apply financial pressure on Israel to compel it to meet its obligations under international law, including withdrawal from occupied territories, removal of the West Bank separation wall, full equality for Palestinian Israeli citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.