House Republicans demanded Wednesday that Democrats confront anti-Semitism within their own ranks — and said one way to do that is to approve a bill to counter the growing Israel-boycott movement.
GOP leaders launched a petition drive to force a pro-Israel bill that would protect localities that want to disengage from persons and businesses that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The legislation cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote earlier this year, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept it bottled up. Republicans said Mrs. Pelosi could go a long way toward answering accusations of anti-Semitism within her caucus by passing the bill.
“We’re seeing this alarming trend, this growing trend, of anti-Semitism,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican. “Even here in the United States and in fact, unfortunately, even here the United States Congress, where you have members of Congress expressing anti-Semitic views on a regular basis now.”
Democrats called the GOP move a distraction, saying they’re working on legislation of their own.
“The discharge petition I think is more about politics than being serious about the substance of the issue,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat and one of the more senior Jewish lawmakers in the chamber, said the petition drive wasn’t necessary because both parties are already on the same page in denouncing the BDS movement.
Yet Democratic leaders have struggled to write legislation to criticize the movement despite Mr. Hoyer having promised action for months.
On Wednesday he said he expects House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, to have an anti-BDS resolution ready “in the very near future.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey Democrat, said he expects a vote this summer on an anti-BDS resolution, though it won’t have teeth to it.
“I think the key is to actually show very strong support for anti-BDS measures and show in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Gottheimer said.
Republicans wondered why Democrats were struggling. They pointed to the strong bipartisan vote in the Senate earlier this year on the anti-BDS bill, which also renewed security agreements with Israel and Jordan.
“I really thought this bill, given the Senate’s strong vote — bipartisan — that this would be another example of bipartisanship in the House,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and the bill’s sponsor in the House. “But unfortunately there are elements in Eliot’s party that will not allow him to bring this particular bill to a mark up.”
Ms. Tlaib said in an interview last week that she had a “calming feeling” when thinking about the role her Palestinian ancestors played in creating a “safe haven” for Jewish people after the Holocaust. Republicans and historians called her remarks were offensive and false.
Ms. Omar, meanwhile, during her four months in Congress has sparked two debates on the House floor with several uses of anti-Semitic tropes.
The Minnesota Democrat told The Washington Times she wasn’t aware of the Republican’s petition drive and didn’t think it was of much consequence.
“I can’t imagine why this would be a priority for people, but for those that it is — they can waste their time on it,” she said.
Yet within the GOP it’s proved very popular. The petition already garnered 167 signatures on Wednesday — blowing way past Mr. Scalise’s goal of 100 on its first day.
To succeed, a discharge petition must get signatures from a majority of the House. If all Republicans signed on, it would take 21 Democrats to reach the threshold. GOP leaders said 27 House Democrats supported similar anti-BDS legislation in the last Congress, creating a pool of juicy targets to sign onto the new petition.
“Do not let your leadership stop you,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
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