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Rashida Tlaib: The Senate’s Anti-BDS Bill Is an Unconstitutional Attack on Free Speech

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A new Senate bill would allow state and local governments to boycott any U.S. companies which are engaged in a boycott against Israel. We speak with Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, who has come out out against the bill, tweeting, “They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Tlaib, can you also respond to—well, The Intercept is reporting that the Senate, in its first legislative act, will take up a bill that aims to prevent opposition to the Israeli government by allowing state and local governments to boycott any U.S. companies which are engaged in a boycott against Israel. It’s called the Combating BDS Act, is part of multiple foreign policy measures contained bill S. 1. It’s sponsored by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, similar to, though reportedly less extreme than, a measure introduced last year by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, which was met with condemnation from free speech advocates. Twenty-six states currently have laws sanctioning entities which support a boycott of Israel, which can entail punishment of individuals working for employers subject to anti-boycott laws. Can you explain—can you respond to this spate of laws and the legislation being introduced?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: Yeah, I mean, I agree with Senator Sanders and ACLU and others that see this not as a—see this as an anti-speech, anti-First Amendment bill. The fact that we have our senators, that right now could be voting on opening up our government—they have the bills in their hands—are voting on this, that’s distracting us from what is our focus, which is the American people.

And I can tell you, you know, looking at this push among even just the states, saying that, you know, you will not employ someone that doesn’t sign some sort of allegiance to say that they will not boycott another country, it is literally at the core, right there, is literally an attack on our Constitution, on our—one of the most critical rights that we have in our country is freedom of speech.

I cannot imagine our country not having the right to economic boycott. Think about, you know, Alabama, Montgomery. Think about Montgomery, Alabama, and all around the country, the civil rights movement. Even alone now from those that are, you know, Occupy Walmart, the attack on the corporations, all of those folks are, you know, using the right to speak, the right to economic boycott, the right to be able to push up against things that they disagree with. There is nothing wrong with that.

I just wish the United States senators, that are in power, that are in leadership right now, would not be so focused on taking away our rights, and be focused on helping the thousands of families, millions, going on the 18th day, that are impacted by this government shutdown.

AMY GOODMAN: But then, let me ask you to respond to the criticism you’ve faced about this recent tweet you posted concerning the bill. You tweeted, quote, “They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away,” unquote. Some critics claim the comment was anti-Semitic. Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted, “Intentional or not, this could be interpreted as offensively insinuating dual loyalty–a trope with a long & troubling history. It’s possible to engage in the democratic process w/o claiming the other side is disloyal,” he said. Your response, Congressmember Tlaib?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: That everyone knows what my intent was. I said, “Read the United States Constitution.” That’s exactly what I want them to do, because that is the law of the land. So, for me, that is why they have forgotten what country that we are, you know, representing.

I need them to focus on our values and on understanding that—even that tweet, I mean, look at it. It just says, “Read the Constitution. Focus.” Focus on our values and our rights right now. I don’t want our right to be able to speak and dissent to be taken away. I don’t care if it’s Saudi Arabia or if it’s Israel or any other country. I can’t imagine our members of Congress or even the residents back in the day that pushed back against apartheid in Africa not to be able to boycott.

You know, all of these kinds of claims are just farce. They will continue to label me. My mere existence as a member of Congress as a Palestinian causes a lot of fear, because I’m here as a human being, as an American, that is saying to the world that we exist. And that alone, anything to push up against that and to label me as some sort of anti-Semitic—I can tell you, from campaigning against, TAKE ON HATE, to pushing back against so much racism and bigotry against everyone based on—anybody based on their faith, is what I do on a daily basis.

And so, I can tell you that it’s a way to try to possibly reduce what I’m trying to say, to try to sway people away, that this is not what I’m trying to basically say in my tweet, which is this is against our United States Constitution. So, I really wish and know that many people agree with me, that freedom of speech is something sacred and something that is important that we need to very much protect.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we end, Congressmember Tlaib, can you just describe to us this epic day last week, this historic day when more than a hundred women were sworn in to Congress, you among them. You made history, of course, as one of two—the first two Muslim women, along with Ilhan Omar, to be sworn in. You were wearing a Palestinian thobe. You were there with your children. Describe that moment to us.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: I think a lot of people don’t realize, like even for me to be there—I was watching Deb Haaland from New Mexico in front of me getting sworn in. I could see from afar Lucy McBath getting sworn in, and all these incredible women.

You know, many of us didn’t run because of our diverse backgrounds. We really ran because we want to help our neighbors, our people across the country. You know, when I think about this moment and this kind of historic class, I know that I have this tremendous amount of hope and inspiration that this disconnect that we all feel with our members of Congress right now, with just Congress in general, that it’s getting—that connection is starting to disappear a little bit more, because now we’re starting to look, talk and feel like the rest of the country.

And so, I know when I hear Lucy McBath talk about her son that she lost to gun violence, Jordan, I get emotional, and I get focused again. And that is what inspires me, is when—you know, seeing Lucy McBath fight for her child, seeing this incredible woman, strong woman, Deb Haaland, fight for our Native Americans across this country, that have been denied access, denied seat at the table every single moment in our history in our country—all of that, to me, gives me so much hope and inspiration that we’re going to do better and we’re going to be able to really, truly change this country for the best.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Rashida Tlaib, Democratic congressmember for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District; along with Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a film, Crime + Punishment, on quotas on the part of police officers in New York. Who gets arrested? Who doesn’t? Who gets summonses? Who doesn’t? Stay with us.

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