US Capitol
US Capitol Reuters

The US Senate on Monday advanced a Middle East policy bill that codifies assistance for Israel and protects states that ban dealings with Israel boycotters, JTA reported.

The Senate voted 74-19 to advance the bill, according to the report.

The bill was submitted earlier this month by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). However, Senate Democrats blocked the legislation due to the government shutdown, saying that the first order of business for the government must be to reopen government.

It includes language that codifies into law the $38 billion over a decade that President Barack Obama pledged to Israel in the final months of his term in 2016.

It also adds legal protections to states that penalize businesses that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

The bill’s other components reinforce the US-Jordan relationship and add sanctions on Syria’s Assad regime. All four components resurrect bills that failed to pass in the last Congress.

Democrats had spoken out against the BDS component of the bill, saying it violates freedom of speech.

One of the legislation’s fiercest opponents has been Independent Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders who caucuses with the Democrats. Sanders tweeted earlier this month, “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.”

Also speaking out against the Rubio bill was newly elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who quoted Sanders’ tweet and added, “They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.”