The Republican-controlled United States Senate has passed legislation that would allow state and local governments to sanction those who support the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) against Israel, with a 77-23 vote in favor. The bill will now move to the House of Representatives, currently ruled by a Democratic majority.

“Israel is without a doubt one of the best friends in the world,” Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in remarks to the Senate. “Certainly, in that neighborhood they live in, which is a dangerous neighborhood, they need our help. We worked with them very closely in many, many respects.”

Critics decried the measure as contrary to the free speech rights of Americans under the First Amendment of the Constitution, which in US jurisprudence has provided protection for people participating in boycotts as a form of political protest, Al Jazeera reported, according to the PNN.

“Our country was founded upon the concept and in the midst of a great boycott,” Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said in remarks to the Senate opposing the measure. “At the time, we were boycotting British goods and most specifically, British tea. There is likely nothing more American than to protest, to dissent and to boycott.”

26 states have adopted anti-BDS measures, which is backed by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee advocacy group. However, US judges in Kansas and Arizona struck down such laws in 2018.

“This goes beyond supporting Israel or not supporting Israel. This is about Americans’ civil liberties,” Shibley Telhami, a pollster and professor at the University of Maryland, said.

“The differentiating characteristic of this one is that it is intruding into the civil liberties of Americans. Even people who oppose sanctions find it offensive that they have to penalize people who voice support for sanctions.”