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  • "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," Sanders said. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 January 2019

“This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality," Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said.

As the United States government shutdown enters its third week, Republican senators Marco Rubio and James Risch proposed a bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a move representatives Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib, among others, heavily criticized.

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"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," former presidential candidate Sanders wrote on Twitter Monday. "Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let's get our priorities right."

The anti-BDS measure was presented in a wider Middle East foreign policy bill introduced last week amidst a partial shutdown of the federal government caused by a political blockade over funding a US$5 billion border wall between the U.S. and Mexico -- a campaign promise of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality," newly-elected Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said in opposition to the bill joining Sanders and pro-Palestinian activists.

Tlaib has publically come out in support of BDS, the peaceful pro-Palestinian movement that seeks to put pressure on the state of Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian among other abuses against Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Marco Rubio, a Republican representative from Florida, insisted that his proposal, named S1 as the first measure presented to the Senate in 2019,  is legal. However, there are two federal court rulings last year in Arizona and Kansas finding that it is unconstitutional to force state contractors to act against boycotting Israel.

“SB1 allows local & state govt’s to boycott the boycotters by ending contracts with companies that give in to these Anti-Israel demands.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to Rubio stating that the First Amendment, which grants U.S. citizens the right to free speech, belongs to the people, 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," the legal aid group said.

The ACLU later sent a letter to the members of the Senate, urging them to reject the bill due to concerns over the First Amendment.

The Senate could vote as early as Tuesday on the proposal.

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