US House of Representatives condemns boycotts for Palestinian rights

Dome of US Capitol against stormy sky

A nonbinding resolution passed by the US House of Representatives on 23 July foreshadows even more brazenly unconstitutional legislation to penalize and criminalize boycotts of Israel.

Jonathan Ernst Reuters

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday evening condemning people for exercising their constitutional right to engage in boycotts in support of Palestinian rights.

The resolution, H.Res.246, passed by a vote of 398-17 with five representatives abstaining and 12 not voting.

The resolution puts the House of Representatives on record as opposing “the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

The resolution also claims that BDS “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.”

The measure “urges Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

All but one of the representatives who voted against the resolution are Democrats.

They included a mix of longtime proponents of Palestinian rights such as Minnesota’s Betty McCollum, Indiana’s André Carson and Barbara Lee of California.

First-term representatives such as Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American Congress member from Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Chuy Garcia of Illinois and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all voted against the motion as well.

Resolution renounces peaceful dissent

McCollum released a statement strongly opposing the resolution.

“Peaceful dissent and the protesting of injustice are the right of all Americans guaranteed by the Constitution. It is called freedom of speech,” McCollum said.

She added that the resolution passed by the House “renounces the peaceful promotion of human rights, self-determination and justice on behalf of Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation.”

McCollum noted that the measure “completely ignores the Netanyahu government’s brutality, dehumanization and subjugation of Palestinian people at the root of this peaceful movement.”

Tlaib took to the House floor to invoke the oppression her grandmother faces under Israeli military occupation as her justification for opposing the resolution and for the “right to boycott the racist policies of the government of Israel.”

Libertarian Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the resolution.

Michigan’s Justin Amash, the other Palestinian American to currently serve in Congress and who recently left the Republican Party, abstained.

Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who is running for president, did not vote, while Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House, voted in favor of the motion.

The resolution was introduced by Illinois Democrat Bradley Schneider in March and garnered the support of 351 cosponsors.

The resolution received as much support as it did because it was viewed by many as being a more palatable statement against BDS than previously proposed bills that unconstitutionally sought to penalize and, in some cases, even criminalize BDS activism, including through $1 million fines and 20-year prison terms.

The resolution does include a clause recognizing that it is “a hallmark of American democracy for citizens to petition the United States Government in favor of or against United States foreign policy.”

And according to McCollum, a last-minute addition to the resolution was made affirming the constitutional “right to protest or criticize the policies of the United States or a foreign government.”

Legislation “with teeth”

However, even if the resolution only violated the spirit of the Constitution and not necessarily its letter, its proponents left no doubt that its passage would serve as a stepping stone to harsher and more brazenly unconstitutional legislation to penalize and criminalize BDS.

New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made clear that he would tolerate only individual, and not collective, efforts to boycott for Palestinian rights.

“Do you want to criticize a government? That is your right. Do you want to stop buying products from a certain country? That is also your right,” Engel said.

However, Engel warned that “participating in an international commercial effort that undermines Israel’s legitimacy and scuttles the chances of a two-state solution isn’t the same as an individual exercising First Amendment rights.”

Presumably he will continue advocating for legislation that seeks to punish people for doing so.

New York Republican Lee Zeldin, who managed the debate for the minority party, stated that the resolution was a good start, but not sufficient.

“Congress needs to make a very strong, bipartisan statement against BDS, and this resolution does just that,” Zeldin said. “In addition, we should also enact legislation with teeth.”

Zeldin urged the House to pass S.1, which includes the Combating BDS Act, a bill which encourages states to pass unconstitutional laws denying government contracts to individuals, organizations and companies that support boycotts for Palestinian rights.

Federal judges in Kansas, Arizona and Texas have already declared these types of laws to be unconstitutional.

And New Jersey Republican Chris Smith attempted to resurrect a discredited definition of anti-Semitism as any language that engages in “demonization, double standard and delegitimization” of Israel.

Such vague terms encompass potentially any political critique of Israeli policies and mirror language currently being employed by the Trump administration to police campus speech for Palestinian rights through the Department of Education.

While Members of Congress opposed to activism for Palestinian rights will continue their years-long legislative efforts to penalize and criminalize BDS, others have finally started to push back against these efforts through legislation of their own.

H.Res.496, introduced last week by Ilhan Omar, asserts “that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Omar’s measure, which also opposes anti-boycott legislation, currently enjoys the cosponsorship of nine representatives.




The federal and state legislatures now routinely pass laws and resolutions in open defiance of the Constitution. Rep. Omar's bill recognizing Americans' right to engage in boycotts will be opposed by an overwhelming majority of her mercenary colleagues. It will be interesting in the aftermath to hear from such defenders of liberty exactly what they have against the First Amendment. I'm sure they'll come up with a contorted interpretation that places Israel's interest at the center of the original design for America's legal system.

On the other hand, will the corporate media even put the question?


This was AIPAC’s high priority legislation and Nancy Pelosi delivered.


If the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians is reflective of our humanity, I doubt that our human race deserves to survive. Due to our greed and stupidity we are destroying life on planet earth at an increasingly exponential rate. If it continues humanity will be wiped out within one century. It is regrettable that we are destroying other life forms in the process. In this century various ideologies including nationalism and religious belief systems often do more harm than good. They frequently form the basis of the doctrine of exceptionalism with the associated assumption that other people are not as enlightened or in some cases as valuable or of similar worth. This can lead to rampant destructive discrimination including all kinds of violence and war. Such exceptionalism dominated the Nazi ideology, constitutes a pillar of the belief in American exceptionalism, and forms part of the warped justification in the minds of Israelis towards others including their discriminatory treatment and regard of Palestinians.


Many people continue to fall for the antisemitic gag allowing the perpetuation of Israel's war crimes and systematic genocide of Palestinians and illegal seizure of their lands and homes. Israel with the funding and cooperation of U.S. has dominated controlled of mainstream media and therefore has subjected thousands to their propaganda. Had Hitler had such an effective propaganda program, people might have been stifled from opposing him based on a similar accusation of anti-Nazism. Israel and the Israel lobby claim that any criticism of Israel amounts to antisemitism. This means that criticism of murder and deliberate maiming of unarmed protesters, the destruction and takeover Palestinian lands, the the torture and imprisonment of men, women and children is considered antisemitic. The logical conclusion of this stance is that murder, and torture are Jewish values which is obviously absurd. To equate Jewishness with human rights violations is the obvious conclusion of this argument.. something that is a discredit to Jews and gentiles. Israel continues to carry out a systematic genocide of the Palestinian people and we are supposed to witness this and say nothing.


"To equate Jewishness with human rights violations is the obvious conclusion of this argument."

And that is actual antisemitism, as practiced by Zionists.


Your "logical conclusion of this stance.." is an absolutely excellent riposte to the 'antisemite' smear.
Very well considered and presented.
Thank You for that.
It is a conclusion we should all disseminate. It is unanswerable.
Respect and Solidarity.


"Unanswerable"? They don't have an answer because they don't need one. They run right over your logic and if you take it to the streets, they'll run right over you. There are layers and layers of power that can exercise options yet to be set on the table. If the good poor in this world continue to be forced to either stand up virtually alone to power, or surrender their pride and their humanity, we will see those options come down on us all.
Sorry, bad day.


USA lawmakers have just sided with a plainly racist regime which imposes apartheid, murders its opponents, lies about its history, invades territory to which it has no right, flouts international law, demolishes the homes of common folk, sprays their crops with poison and yet claims to want a peace settlement with them. In 1949 the NYT journalist Anne McCormick declared the chance of a two-state solution dead. In the same year, the Manchester Guardian wrote that "Israel will break the heart of its friends yet."Whenever a Zionist speaks of two-state solution it is like hearing an alcoholic say tomorrow he will give up drinking. There is only a one-state solution. How do we get there when the law makers behave in such a dishonest, shabby way? One possibility is to arm the Palestinians: an army, an air force, a navy. But that is a fantasy. It is the common people of the world who have the answer. In every country on the planet, even China, even the US the common people must refuse to have anything to do with Israel. We must turn our backs. Those of us in democratic states, who can take to the streets, print leaflets, make speeches, hold meetings have a special responsibility. We will be reviled by the powerful but we are many. We must never miss an opportunity to make the argument. We must convince everyone we know. And we must stand for election. What use is a House full of corpses? The Israeli abuse of the Palestinians is a scar on the world's conscience. We will not give up. Not long ago same sex marriage was illegal in the US. Things can change when the common folk insist.


I am BROKEN!!! .... and Broken-hearted that MY CANDIDATE has decided to support Anti-BDS Legislation while running on a TRUE "Anti-War" platform.... It makes NO SENSE!! WHY?!! Why Tulsi are you doing this!!? It makes me SICK TO MY STOMACH that the poor Palestinians have NO SUPPORT from those who "say" they support human rights then turn around and defend the MONSTERS doing the violation? What? Tulsi have you lost your mind or just taken a really big paycheck from Netanyahu? Wow. I am SOOOOOOOO pissed!!!


You neglected to mention that Ayanna Pressley voted FOR the resolution! What is she thinking? Does she not know anything about the boycott against South African Apartheid? Does she still stand with the gang of 4?

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner's picture

Josh Ruebner is adjunct professor at Georgetown University, managing director of American Muslims for Palestine and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and are not on behalf of any organization.