In the Senate's first vote since the government shutdown ended last week, 25 Democrats teamed up with the Republican majority Monday night to advance anti-boycott legislation that Palestinian rights groups and civil libertarians have denounced as a brazen attack on the First Amendment rights of those protesting the brutal Israeli occupation.
"It is clear to me that S.1 would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"It's vile that a law aimed at suppressing our democratic rights and silencing those fighting for solidarity with Palestinians would even make it to the Senate floor," declared IfNotNow, an American Jewish advocacy group, following the 74-19 vote. "Shame on our community's establishment for pushing this bill forward."
Here are the 25 Democrats—including Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democratic Party—who voted with the GOP to advance the anti-boycott legislation:
While the 25 Democratic senators who crossed the aisle were denounced for voting to end debate on Senate Bill 1 (S.1)—which legal experts have decried as "unconstitutional"—the 19 Democrats and one independent who voted no were applauded for taking a firm stand for free expression.
"Disappointing vote to undermine free speech rights for Palestinian freedom, but encouraging 19 senators understand minimal credibility as a progressive now includes standing up for freedom to boycott," said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
The 19 senators—18 Democrats joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who voted no were:
Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Seven senators did not vote, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), rumored 2020 hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
"The Senate just voted to clear the way for S.1, an attack on our right to boycott and on work for justice in Palestine. Regardless, we will continue to defend BDS!"
In a statement on his decision to vote against S.1 on Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that he does not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but condemned the Senate's bipartisan effort to punish those who do as an attack on free expression.
"While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American's constitutional right to engage in political activity," the Vermont senator said. "It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans' First Amendment rights."
While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity. It is clear to me that S.1 would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 28, 2019
Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), S.1 is a package of legislation that includes $38 billion in military assistance to Israel as well as the so-called Combating BDS Act, which would give state and local governments more power to punish companies and individuals who boycott or divest from Israel. Two federal courts have already deemed similar measures unconstitutional.
A final Senate vote on the legislation is expected as early as Wednesday. The legislation will then move to the House, but it is unclear whether the Democratic majority will take up the measure.
As Common Dreams reported, most Senate Democrats teamed up three times to block S.1 from proceeding earlier this month, arguing that the Senate should not be conducting any business unrelated to ending the government shutdown.
But while advocacy groups continued pressuring Democrats to use their power to block the bill even after the record-long shutdown ended, more than 20 Democrats opted to flip their votes to yes, ignoring grassroots pressure and grave constitutional concerns.
Condemning the 74-19 vote as "awful," the anti-war advocacy group CodePink vowed to continue to fight for the right to boycott Israel over its crimes against the Palestinian people.
"The Senate just voted to clear the way for S.1, an attack on our right to boycott and on work for justice in Palestine, to reach the Senate floor later this week. It is expected to pass," the group declared. "Regardless, we will continue to defend BDS!"