'Progressive Except Palestine'? Khanna and Pressley Draw Fire Over Vote Condemning Nonviolent BDS Movement

Two progressive House Democrats Tuesday came under fire from the left after they voted for a resolution condemning the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which seeks to use economic pressure to end the apartheid state’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

H. Res 246 easily passed the Democrat-led U.S. House, delighting Israel’s extremist right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I would like to commend the U.S. House of Representatives for overwhelmingly approving, by a great bipartisan majority, Democrats and Republicans alike, a decision against boycotts against Israel,” Netanyahu, who has dismissed the possibility of a Palestinian state, a prerequisite for any peace deal, tweeted Wednesday. 

“This is whose side you’re taking,” tweeted anti-war group CodePink, referring to Netanyahu.

The resolution condemned BDS, claiming the peaceful movement “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace and a two-state solution” and “undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.”

Michael Arria wrote for Mondoweiss on July 17 that the resolution’s purpose appears aimed at delegitimizing BDS and opening the door to future attacks on the movement.

“In addition to providing future fodder for pro-Israel lawmakers and groups like AIPAC,” wrote Arria, “H.Res. 246 also effectively tags BDS supporters as antisemitic.”

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, the non-binding resolution passed by a vote of 398 to 17, with 18 members not voting. Among those voting against the resolution were progressives Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Tlaib, in remarks against the resolution on the floor before the vote, implored her fellow lawmakers to take a stand against apartheid.

“I stand before you as the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, parents who experienced being stripped of their human rights, the right to freedom of travel, equal treatment,” said Tlaib. “So I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the state of Israel.”

Ultimately, Tlaib’s efforts were in vain. Even some of her fellow progressives peeled off from the left to support the resolution. Notably voting in favor were a pair of progressive stalwarts, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Khanna serves in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as its vice-chair; Pressley is a member of the so-called “Squad” alongside Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez. 

Both Khanna and Pressley responded to left backlash over their votes on Twitter and, in Pressley’s case, an official statement.

In a Twitter thread explaining her vote, Pressley said that she didn’t believe that H. Res 246 was the type of bill that would “infringe on First Amendment rights at the state and federal level” and that “voting yes on this resolution affirmed to my constituents raised in the Jewish faith Israel’s right to exist, a view I share as a supporter of a two state solution.” 

It was a theme the Massachusetts Democrat also sounded in a statement released by her office on the vote, in which she tied the legislation to the victims of the Trump era’s racism, conflating the president’s rhetoric with BDS by implication. 

“Today I cast a yes vote on H.Res 246 as an expression of  solidarity with Jewish families and with marginalized communities that continue to face heightened threats to their safety in this volatile moment driven by hateful rhetoric from the Trump Administration,” said Pressley. 

The congresswoman came in for pointed criticism for conflating Israel and Judaism as an “excuse” for the vote from Jewish Voice for Peace Boston.

In her statement, Pressley added that she was “also proud to be a co-sponsor of H.Res 496, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Rep. John Lewis’s resolution that opposes any and all unconstitutional efforts to undermine and limit the rights of individuals to peacefully protest and engage in boycotts.”

Jacobin‘s Daniel Denvir expressed disappointment with the Massachusetts Democrat and said her vote indicated a fundamental misunderstanding of the struggle. 

“If Pressley doesn’t get Palestine on this most basic and limited point she’s made her position clear,” Denvir said in a tweet. “This is an Israel lobby resolution targeting a nonviolent resistance movement.”

Jonathan Cohn, a Boston-based activist, agreed, saying he was “very disappointed.”

Reached for comment on Thursday, Pressley’s office would only say that the congresswoman’s statement and tweets spoke for her reasoning and did not dispute that Pressley agreed with the language of the resolution, which claims that BDS “explicitly den[ies] the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination.”

Khanna, on Twitter, said on July 19 his support for the resolution was the result of a belief that “there are better ways to attain peace than BDS.” 

The congressman also compared his approach to Israel to Abraham Lincoln’s posture on ending slavery.

Khanna, who has not signed onto H. Res 496 as Pressley has, added that he hoped critics would consider his “sincere desire to stand up for restraint and human rights and build coalitions to get there.”

“We may disagree on this issue,” said Khanna, “but I am confident my entire record will speak to my values.”

CAIR Arizona’s Imraan Siddiqi tweeted that Khanna’s tweets were an encapsulation of being “Progressive Except Palestine.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is running for president on a nebulously defined anti-war platform, also voted in favor of the resolution. Despite her progressive posturing, Gabbard’s vote, as The Young Turks reporter Emma Vigeland pointed out, is not out of character for the Hawaiian Democrat but rather part of “a long history of deference to Israel’s right wing and related aggressive talk towards Iran.”

“This isn’t progressive foreign policy,” said Vigeland. 

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