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PC(USA) Stated Clerk denounces Senate bill limiting protest of Israel

Bill which allows local governments to sanction entities for economic protest for Palestinian rights passed Senate, now goes to House

By Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has spoken out against a bill which would allow state and municipal governments to punish entities that boycott, divest or sanction Israel in support of Palestinian rights. The bill passed the United States Senate 77-23, Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate that one of the first things the Senate has done following the government shutdown is pass a law that threatens the constitutionally-protected right of Americans to engage in boycotts in support of human-rights causes,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, said in a statement. “However, we are encouraged by the number of Senators who opposed this unjust law.”

The provision was tacked onto a bill that, among other things, reauthorized $3.3 billion in annual military support to Israel over the next 10 years. The provision, known as Anti-BDS, was drafted by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia).

“It is designed to see that the BDS is tamped down and is not appropriate to use against our friend, Israel,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Jim Risch (R-Idaho) was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

But in his statement, Nelson said the legislation sought to deprive the church and others of tools of protest.

“A growing number of churches and other faith groups, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have endorsed time-honored tools like boycotts,” Nelson said in the statement. “In passing the [Combatting BDS Act], the Senate is condoning attempts by politicians at the state level to suppress our efforts to be true to our faith and avoid being complicit in the suffering of others.”

Nelson added that the legislation could,“prompt resistance, including civil disobedience, from the faith community, as well as numerous lawsuits.”

The legislation now moves on to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to receive a cool reception with elements, including a rebuke of President Donald J. Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, that are disliked by Republicans and Democrats.

“Instead of undermining the constitutional rights of Americans, members of Congress should support Palestinians struggling peacefully for their freedom and rights,” Nelson said. “We urge members of the House to reject the CBA when it comes before them.”

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