Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio Reuters

The US Senate on Tuesday approved in a 77-23 vote a bill that codifies $38 billion in defense assistance to Israel and which provides legal cover to states that target the boycott Israel movement, JTA reports.

The Senate last week voted to advance the bill, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

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.

The bill had stirred controversy because a number of Democratic senators said that while they oppose the BDS movement, they were also concerned that state laws aimed at BDS impinged on speech freedoms.

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.”

Among the Democratic dissenters are declared presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California. Rubio, writing Wednesday in The New York Times, defended the bill against charges that it would violate free speech.

Democrats supporting the anti-BDS component included Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), according to JTA.

The bill now goes to the US 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.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee 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.”

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