The US Senate seems to be prioritising the interests of Israel as it kicks off the new year, instead of focusing on bills that could have a positive impact on the lives of Americans.
The US Senate’s first bill of 2019 is not designed to address the economic inequality and socio-economic injustices in the country, but to protect and defend Israel from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The bill, titled S.1, contains various measures regarding US foreign policy but specifically focuses on political and financial assistance to Israel. It has been supported by the influential pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The bill consists of four components. The first is the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2019 (the 2018 version of it can be seen here).
It aims to implement the 2016 deal between former US president Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and guarantees to give a $38 billion aid package to Israel over the next 10 years. The aid would make up the largest-ever military aid package given to any country in the world by the US.
The pro-Israel legislation did not pass in the last Congress, and has been reintroduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, from Florida.
Another chapter of the bill is the Combatting BDS Act of 2019. This section allows the punishment of any individual, state or local government that boycotts Israel or supports the BDS movement.
BDS is a non-violent grassroots and global movement inspired by the boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The core demands of BDS are that Israel ends the occupation in Palestine, dismantles the wall built to restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians, recognise the equal rights of Arab citizens of Israel, and honour Palestinian refugees’ right to return.
Currently in the US, at least 26 states have adopted laws to punish and sanction individuals and corporations that participate in and support the boycott of Israel, while in at least 12 states, similar laws are waiting to be passed.
Bahia Amawai is just one of the hundreds of Americans whose lives have been affected by the pro-Israel laws in the country.
Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to the Senate, arguing that the bill will harm free speech in the US.
“While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of actual punishment by the government,” they wrote in the letter.
Speech pathologist Bahrawi, who worked with disabled students at an elementary school in Texas, lost her job last just last month when she refused to sign a renewed contract that required her to sign a pro-Israel oath.
Across the US, American states have chosen to criminalise their citizens’ decision not to purchase a certain type of olive oil or wine at the expense of American citizens’ constitutional rights.
Similarly, the Senate seems to have chosen to prioritise the interests of a foreign country in the first days of 2019, instead of bills that would have a positive impact on the lives of Americans.