In a February 7 letter responding to my concerns about Senate Bill 1 (S.1), the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, Senator Tammy Duckworth offered a defense of her support for this bill. I believe that through her support of this bill and the rationale she offers for such support, the Senator violates her oath to uphold the Constitution, demonstrates a failure of responsibility and ethics as a US senator, and displays inconsistent if not hypocritical attitudes regarding human rights abuses around the globe.
The Senator’s support for three of the four S.1 provisions is suspect: (1) banning pro-Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) activities violates the First Amendment; (2) applying sanctions to Syria on the basis of “human rights abusers” but disallowing the same against Israel is hypocritical; and (3) appropriating billions of taxpayer dollars to the Israeli military is not only unnecessary but unethical in supporting Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human and civil rights.
Banning BDS is unconstitutional. The Senator asserts that she “strongly” opposes the BDS movement, but nowhere explains her opposition, instead contending that BDS needs to be “addressed.” Whether or not the Senator approves of them, boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are protected under the First Amendment. Why would a constitutionally protected right need to be “addressed”?
As a US senator, her response contains a threefold abrogation of her responsibilities. First, she acknowledges that restricting BDS is “rightly being litigated before Federal courts” (emphasis mine). This admission insinuates that her vote for an unconstitutional bill is acceptable, since the courts can strike it down. The senator took an oath to uphold the constitution, not an oath to violate the Constitution and leave the courts to right her wrong.
Second, she passes the buck to the House, where S.1 would be “subject to further debate and amendment.” S.1 should not be going anywhere while containing an unconstitutional provision—already being litigated and (the Senator neglects to add) overturned in two states.
Third, she backhandedly burdens “individual” citizens with litigating what she has irresponsibly voted to pass into law when she says “this bill does not protect a state or local BDS law from being challenged in court by an individual on constitutional grounds.” I don’t understand what this senator conceives are her responsibilities, as she discharges onto others her primary duty to safeguard our Constitution. I put it to the senator that it is her responsibility to ensure that all bills for which she votes are constitutional.
Beyond violating our Constitution and the oath she took to uphold it, the senator demonstrates a lack of sincerity and ethics in casting her vote. She repeatedly suggests that S.1 won’t pass because the BDS provision is unconstitutional. If the Senator believes that S.1 should not pass, why then vote yea?
Moreover, the US government’s support for sanctions anywhere but against Israel is duplicitous. The senator states that she voted for S.1 explicitly because of the provision to sanction Syria for “human rights abusers in the Assad regime.” How then can the senator justify voting for a bill that criminalizes Americans, American businesses, and federal, state and local governments for supporting sanctions against Israel, a country with the distinction of being cited in more than 100 UN resolutions for violating human rights and international law vis-à-vis Palestinians?
For that matter, the US government applies sanctions against Venezuela, a country which has not violated any international laws or illegally invaded any nations, but has not sanctioned Saudi Arabia in the past four years for violating international law and human rights in Yemen as it bombed hospitals and obstructed aid from reaching the Yemenis in a war cited as the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. I would like to know why these two governments are not sanctioned for violating human rights and international law while others are sanctioned, even when not committing anything nearly as severe as these violations?
The senator acknowledges she is “concerned that the bill as drafted could be interpreted to change [in a more permissive direction] longstanding US policy toward Israeli settlement activity.” Nothing the Senator writes is more misleading. While the US government engages in “politically correct” discourse (like the senator’s statement quoted here) over the illegal Israeli settlements, an adjunct to a colonization process that steals land from Palestinians, bulldozes their homes, and displaces them from their communities, clearly in violation of international law, the veto power of the US government at the UN Security Council speaks a wholly other language. The US government has been the predominant, and often the only, obstacle blocking one UN Security Council vote after another to sanction the transgressions of Israeli regimes.
US government policy has consistently been to stand by, behind, over, and under Israel, no matter the injustices that have been committed against Palestinians since the ill-informed British idea, backed by the UN, was developed into the Partition Plan of 1947, to take away land from one people and give it to another. The senator is quite fond of the tired old trope that Israel is our only democratic ally in the Middle East, but conveniently silent over why we have so many allies that are not democratic (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan) and why “democratic” Israel is allowed to control the lives of more than four million stateless Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
These double standards smack of racism. The senator’s mixed heritage does not acquit her of being held accountable for racist attitudes and actions against a group of people she implicitly demonizes in justifying this vote. In fact, her response concerning the peaceful, constitutional Palestinian-inspired BDS movement is so anti-Palestinian that neither the word Palestine nor Palestinian is mentioned once! I, for one, would like to hear Tammy Duckworth say the words Palestine and Palestinian, and would like her to stop her participation in the erasure and cultural genocide of Palestinians.
With a Master’s from the UI School of Social Work, Sheri has taught overseas in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. A mother of three children, she has been an activist in efforts to remedy the Middle Fork coal ash problem and for the past two years she has been a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She is also a poet and gives local readings.