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US senators vote down anti-BDS motion

PALESTINIAN rights activists in the United States celebrated a victory for democracy after senators voted down a motion which would have outlawed the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Despite the ongoing partial shutdown of the US government, they voted 56 to 44 against the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act” which was introduced by right-wing Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and James Risch, of Idaho, in Tuesday’s session.

If it had passed it would have paved the way for state and local governments to punish US citizens for boycotting Israel, which opponents, including many Democrats, see as an attack on free speech.

Despite the Republicans increasing their majority in the Senate, they still require the support of at least seven Democrats to pass legislation. Many have vowed to vote against any legislation until measures are taken to end the government stalemate.

Vermont senator and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Bernie Sanders said the Senate needs to get its priorities right and discuss Bills that reopen the US government.

“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,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to free speech which belongs to the people and not the government. 

“States don't have the ‘right’ to punish individuals for participating in political boycotts the government doesn’t agree with, which this Bill encourages them to do,” a statement said.

The victory comes as three members of the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute resigned after the organisation stripped communist and renowned activist Angela Davis of an award over “anti-Israel statements.”

The former Black Panther was given the award in October in recognition of her role as “one of the most globally recognised champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak.”

However after an editorial condemning her support for the global BDS campaign in online publication Southern Jewish Life and critical statements from individuals and organisations including the Birmingham Holocaust Education Centre, the group rescinded the award, saying the emeritus professor of the University of California “does not meet all the criteria for the award.”

Ms Davis said she “passionately opposes anti-semitism” and warned that the action was “not an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”

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