New Jersey and Iowa join the growing list of states passing legislation combating the anti-Israel boycott movement. Though the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seems to have taken hold in many college campuses, the battle is far from over as the slow wheels of state legislature pick up momentum.
21 states have taken up anti-BDS legislation, including, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Ohio. In seven of the states, the bills have been signed into law: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, and recently, Iowa. In March, Virginia passed two anti-BDS resolutions, officially condemning and outlawed the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. In some states, the legislation requires the state’s pension fund to create a blacklist of for-profit entities that boycott Israel and to divest from blacklisted entities. In most states, the legislation excludes humanitarian organizations from being affected.
On Monday, the New Jersey Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require the state’s public worker pension fund to divest from companies that boycott Israel. The bill bars the state Division of Investments from investing the public workers’ $68.6 billion pension fund in any company “that boycotts the goods, products, or businesses of Israel, boycotts those doing business with Israel, or boycotts companies operating in Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.” New Jersey trades more than $1.3 billion in goods each year with Israel, according to NewJersey.com. If the Assembly passes the bill, it will go to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature.
On Tuesday, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a similar bill that prohibits state funds from being directly invested in companies that boycott Israel.
“I just think this is the right thing to do,” Branstad said to the Des Moines Register, after a bill-signing ceremony. “I think it sends an important and very clear signal that we are not going to do business with people who boycott Israel. We think that is wrong, and we think that is a prejudicial position that some countries and some companies have taken and we will take a stand on the side of what is right and good.”
Last week, the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church sent a letter to Branstad asking him to veto the anti-boycott legislation. The church claimed boycotts for social, political, and economic change are political speech protected by the First Amendment. Apparently, the governor disagreed with that assessment.
Critics of the wave of anti-BDS bills make this claim, while not relating to the rights of their opponents to express their opinions. Palestine Legal, a pro-BDS legal organization, warns that people, “should all be alarmed that a foreign government, Israel, is lobbying U.S. politicians to restrict our rights”, while neglecting to address concerns that Palestine is also a foreign government affecting US internal policies.
In an interview with Haaretz, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University who has consulted with groups advancing anti-BDS legislation, explained why this is not a first amendment issue.
“Those states see what they’re doing now as a follow-up, as a successor,” Kontorovich said. “They’re implementing laws that use state contracting power to fight back against racism.”