American states mobilise for Israel

August 8, 2017
Sarah Benton

A list of the states which have passed ‘anti-BDS’ laws follows the Al Jazeera article. See also Strategies for change in Background and Analysis.

All photos by Sainatee Suarez/Al Jazeera from “Protest Cuomo’s Attack on Palestinian Rights” coalition

Israel challenges BDS at home and beyond

An interfaith group was stopped from boarding their flight in the US as Israel enforces ban on foreign BDS supporters.

By Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa, Al Jazeera
August 04, 2017

Washington, DC – Last month, an interfaith group was barred from catching a flight to Israel from an airport near Washington, DC. At the Lufthansa check-in counter, the group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian delegates were told that Israeli authorities had instructed the airline not to allow them to fly to Tel Aviv.

“We weren’t given any more information, we were given no documentation,” said Noah Habeeb, a 23-year-old student who was travelling with the group. “We were told that there’s nobody else we can speak to about it, that speaking to TSA [the Transportation Security Administration] or US security officials would be irrelevant because the decision was solely from the Israelis.”

It quickly emerged that Israeli authorities had blacklisted the group because of their support for BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – which works to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and to grant its own Palestinian citizens full rights.

The two women and three men who were banned are members of various activist groups that support BDS: Jewish Voice for Peace, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and American Muslims for Palestine.

“We were prepared for interrogation at Ben Gurion – I was. I’m Arab and Jewish, all of us who have Arab heritage in any way were expecting that, but not in this way. This is new,” Habeeb told Al Jazeera.

Ban enforcement

Israel has regularly banned foreigners, including Jews, from entry for their activism or political views, but in March, it formalised its policy and began enforcing the ban more forcefully. Israel’s parliament passed an amendment into law denying entry to foreigners who express public support for boycotting the country or its settlements in the West Bank.

“It appears that this is a new front in the war against Israel for which the state was so far reluctant to prepare,” the amendment to the state entry law read. “This amendment aims to prevent people or representatives of companies, associations or organisations who publicly call to boycott Israel from actively working within state territories to promote their agenda.”

Interior Minister Arye Dery and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan acknowledged in a statement that the group was barred from coming to Israel under the provisions of this new law, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said authorities have the right to deny entry to those it deems a threat to its security.

“Every country has the right to say that certain people who work actively against it are not welcome,” Nahshon told Al Jazeera. “The same applies to the US or to any other country in the world. There is no reason whatsoever why we should allow people whose main purpose in life is the destruction of Israel to travel [here].”

A related bill is also being advanced at the Knesset. If passed, it would ensure that the government’s pushback against BDS is shrouded in secrecy. Heading the fight against BDS, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs wants its efforts to combat attempts to “delegitimise Israel” exempt from the country’s Freedom of Information Law, which permits citizens to seek information from a public authority.

Erdan said the bill, which already passed a first reading, was necessary. “Since this is a battlefront like any other, the ministry put together a strategy for running the campaign against this phenomenon,” he said on July 18.

Since its inception in 2005, BDS has gained significant momentum, most notably in the cultural, religious and educational arenas. But despite its success in persuading some unions and banks in Europe and elsewhere to divest from companies that violate Palestinian rights, the movement has not made a significant dent in Israel’s economy.

Nonetheless, BDS’ actions have left Israel increasingly concerned about its image abroad, as the movement’s support base continues to grow in the US and Canada, as well. In 2016, the Knesset even held a conference to discuss various methods to tackle BDS, and allotted 100 million shekels (around $28m) to that cause.

US bills to counter BDS

Israel’s efforts to combat BDS have meanwhile grown beyond its borders. In recent years, a slew of bills banning the boycott of Israel or its settlements have come to the fore in the US Congress and state legislatures.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen a proliferation of legislation at the state and federal level,” said Lara Friedman, president of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Middle East Peace.

“The immediate catalyst for this legislation – and the actual focus of its impact – isn’t the BDS movement, but increased efforts in the international community, and particularly by the EU, to differentiate between Israel and settlements.”

The Foundation for Middle East Peace has documented at least 28 bills introduced since 2015, targeting Israel boycotts and including in its definition of Israel its settlements in the West Bank. Critics say these anti-BDS bills are problematic because they conflate Israel with its illegal settlements, and stifle free speech. Friedman told Al Jazeera,

“What we have are efforts to protect and normalise settlements, cloaked as efforts to fight BDS . [This] leads us to the broader free speech issue: much of this legislation is brazenly unconstitutional, seeking to exploit concern about BDS to undermine the constitutionally protected right to speak out and engage in activism based on one’s political beliefs.”

These bills can be broken down into four major strands, according to Friedman. The first is at the state level, and it seeks to bar companies and individuals that boycott either Israel or settlements from winning state contracts.

The second, also at the state level, seeks to have states divest from companies that boycott settlements or Israel, and a third, which has popped up at both the federal and state levels, seeks to exploit a very broad definition of antisemitism to effectively shut down both BDS and criticism of Israel on university campuses.

The fourth is a bill currently advancing in Congress: the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would impose huge sanctions – fines of up to $1m and 20 years in prison – on those supporting or advocating boycotts of Israel, including its settlements, advocated by international organisations like the EU or UN.

“Backers of this legislation insist it is necessary to push back against EU- and UN-backed boycotts of Israel, despite the fact that not a single European country, nor the UN, calls for boycotting Israel,” Friedman said.

As outrage grew over the proposed measure, with groups like the ACLU asserting its unconstitutionality, some members of Congress have said they are now open to amending or at least reviewing the legislation. In a surprising move, one of the original co-sponsors of the bill has even withdrawn her support for the legislation.

“They’re now realising how draconian [this bill] is,” said Rahul Saksena, a lawyer at Palestine Legal, a group that supports pro-Palestine civil rights activists. “It is fundamentally ridiculous that our lawmakers from both major political parties are supporting a bill that questions First Amendment-protected activism.”

Saksena believes that amending the law is not enough to offset the chilling effect it will have on free speech and grassroots activism, on Palestine specifically.

“I’m concerned that with an overzealous presidential administration, pressured perhaps by Israel advocacy groups – including the ones that support this bill – if it’s enacted, it will be viewed as yet another tool to crush Palestine advocacy.”

Anti-BDS legislation, from Jewish Virtual Library

State Date Summary
Tennessee April 21, 2015 The Tennessee General Assembly formally condemned the BDS movement in a 123-1 vote with the passing of SJR-170, becoming the first state in the country to do so. Although the legislation does not order Tennessee public institutions to divest from entities involved in the BDS movement, it refers to BDS as, “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.” The legislation also stated that BDS is, “deeply damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights for all the peoples in the Middle East.”
South Carolina June 4, 2015 South Carolina’s state legislature passed legislation banning the state from entering into contracts with companies that participate in certain kinds of boycotts. Unlike the Illinois measure, South Carolina’s H-3583 bill is in no way limited to companies that boycott Israeli firms. Rather, the legislation refers to companies that boycott “a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade.” This legislation was signed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on June 4, 2015.
Illinois July 23, 2015 The Illinois state legislature unanimously passed landmark anti-BDS legislation on May 18, 2015, and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner became the first state leader to sign anti-BDS legislation into law on July 23, 2015. The bill, SB-1761, targets taxpayer funded public pension funds that invest in companies which have adopted a BDS stance towards Israel. Per the legislation, companies that boycott Israel in Illinois were added to restricted company lists which undergo periodic review and are sent around to managers at all taxpayer funded public pension funds. The passage of this bill was hailed as the first state-based, concrete action taken against the BDS movement in the United States. The legislation was approved by the Governor on July 23, 2015.
California December 30, 2015 The California-Israel Commerce Protection Act was passed on December 30, 2015, requiring the state of California and all public entities to divest from all companies that participate in boycotts against Israel. The act specifies that the state of California will not be doing business with companies that engage in practices, “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
Alabama February 16, 2016 Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed SJR-6 into law on February 16, 2016, after it had been unanimously passed by the state legislature the previous week. The legislation states that the activities of the BDS movement in Alabama are, “harmful to the State’s relationships with Alabama’s Jewish citizens,” and expresses unconditional support for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. The legislation goes on to, “unequivocally denounce and reject the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and any furtherance of this movement in this state.”

Governor Bentley signed the anti-discrimination bill SB81 on May 10, 2016, which prevents Alabama government entities from contracting with companies engaged in Israel boycotts.

Colorado February 26, 2016 The Colorado House of Representatives passed HB-16-284 on February 26, 2015. The legislation orders the state Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) to identify all companies that participate in the BDS movement and add their names to a list of restricted companies. The bill then requires PERA to send notice to the company alerting them of their status, and if the company does not stop supporting BDS activities within 180 days of notification the legislation requires PERA to divest from that company. This list of restricted companies is to be reviewed on an annual basis. The legislation was signed into law by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on March 18, 2016.
Indiana March 1, 2016 In a 47-3 vote, the Indiana State Senate approved anti-BDS legislation on March 1, 2016. The House had approved the legislation in January. The bill, HB-1378, requires mandatory state divestment from any company that participates in, “the promotion of activities to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” The language in the bill targets settlements as well, including “territories controlled by the Jewish State of Israel,” in the anti-BDs measure. As of December 2016 the legislation had still not been approved by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
Florida March 10, 2016 Florida became the fifth state in the country to introduce a resolution confronting and condemning the BDS movement, on December 21, 2015.

Florida’s State Legislature passed SB-86 on February 24, 2016, with bipartisan support, sending a message that they benefit from their relations with Israel and do not support the BDS movement, companies associated with it, or it’s agenda. In early March the Florida Senate passed an adjusted version of the bill calling for the repeal of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s “West Bank country of origin marking requirements,” which prevent West Bank products being labelled as “Made in Israel.”

On March 10, 2016, the Florida House of Representatives passed HB-527, directing the State Board of Administration create a list of companies that engage in boycotts of Israel, and instructing all government entities to divest from companies listed. On the same date, Florida governor Rick Scott signed SB-86.

Virginia March 10, 2016 Both Virginia Houses of Delegates passed identical resolutions condemning the actions of the BDS movement in early March 2016. The legislation voices support for a negotiated 2-state solution, and states that Virginia “oppose[s] all attempts to economically and politically isolate Israel within the international arena, including promotion of economic, cultural, and academic boycotts.” Virginia lawmakers referred to the BDS movement as “inherently antithetical and deeply damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East.” Virginia’s Jewish community issued a statement thanking the legislators for passing the resolution.
Arizona March 18, 2016 On March 14, 2016, Arizona’s House of Representatives passed legislation prohibiting state investment in companies that participate in the BDS movement, and requiring all entities contracting with the state to certify that they are not involved in boycotts of Israel. The legislation, HB-2617, passed the House with a 42-16-2 vote, after having passed the Senate the previous week. The legislation was signed into law by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on March 18, 2016.
Georgia April 26, 2016 Georgia’s SB-327 was approved by the State Senate on February 26, 2016, in a 45-6 vote. The bill prohibits the state, “including all of its subdivisions and instrumentalities,” from entering into contracts or agreements with companies involved with the BDS movement. This legislation passed the State House of Representatives on March 24, 2016, and was sent to the Governor to sign. Governor Nathan Deal signed the legislation on April 26, 2016.
Iowa May 10, 2016 On February 24, 2016, the Iowa House of Representatives voted to block the state from investing in or contracting with companies that support the BDS movement. The legislation, SB-3087, was approved with a 70-24 vote, and 6 abstentions.

The Iowa State Senate approved SF-2281 in a 38-9 vote on April 27, 2016. The bill makes it illegal for a public entity in the state of Iowa to invest or enter into a contract worth over $1,000 with a company that boycotts Israel. The State Senate also approved a resolution with a voice-vote expressing support for Israel as well as a 2-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iowa HF-2331 was signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad on May 10, 2016, after being approved in April 2016 by the State Senate and February 2016 by the State House of Representatives.

New York June 5, 2016 An anti-BDS resolution was passed with a near-unanimous vote in the New York State Assembly on June 22, 2015. The resolution denounced the BDS movement, stating, “this legislative body is concerned that the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and its agenda are damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East.” The legislation reiterated the close ties that New York shares with the Jewish state as well.

The New York State Senate approved a bill that prohibits the state and state entities from doing business with companies that support the BDS movement on January 20, 2016. The bill, S-6378A, is currently on the docket for the State Assembly to vote on. This legislation would prohibit state contracting with or investments in companies or individuals that engage in boycott, divestment, or sanctioning activities against Israel.

WESPAC Foundation, a group that financially supports the BDS movement by supporting Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is based in White Plains, New York. SJP, the main iteration of the BDS movement on U.S. college campuses, raises money through donations to WESPAC and is not required by law to disclose their funding to the IRS because they are not registered as a charitable organization. The Palestine Freedom Project also receives funding through WESPAC, as does the Cultures of Resistance Network Foundation.

On June 5, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations and companies that participate in Israel boycotts. Cuomo described BDS as an “economic attack” on Israel during a speech at Manhattan’s Harvard Club, and stated that “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.” The Governor chose to issue an executive order instead of bringing the issue to the state legislature because passing legislation can be “a tedious affair,” and he wanted to take “immediate action,” against the BDS movement. Under the order, the Commissioner of the Office of General Services of New York was commanded to put together a list of businesses and groups involved in the BDS movement, based on “credible information available to the public.” The executive order was signed just before the Governor marched in New York City’s 2016 Celebrate Israel Parade.

New Jersey August 16, 2016 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed S-1923 into law on August 16, 2016, requiring the state’s public worker pension funds to divest from companies that engage in Israel boycotts. The measure enjoyed wide bipartisan support in the State Senate and Assembly in May and June, where it passed with votes of 39-0, and 70-3, respectively.
Pennsylvania November 4, 2016 Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed HB2107 into law on November 4, 2016. The bill, sponsored by Representative Matthew Baker, prohibits the government of the state of Pennsylvania from contracting with any entity that engages in BDS activities.
Ohio December 19, 2016 Ohio HB-476 was introduced to the state legislature on February 24, 2016. The legislation, if approved, would ban “state agents” from entering into or renewing contracts with companies, unless it is contractually declared that the company is not boycotting or disinvesting from Israel. The bill was signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich on December 19, 2016.
Michigan January 10, 2017 Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed his state’s anti-BDS legislation on January 10, 2017, making Michigan the first state to stand against the BDS movement that year. The bills, HB 5821 and 5822, were passed by the state House and Senate during the previous month. Michigan state agencies, according to the legislation, “may not enter into a contract with a person to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, or information technology unless the contract includes a representation that the person is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the person will not engage in, the boycott of a person based in or doing business with a strategic partner.”
Texas May 2, 2017 Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed HB89, an act relating to state contracts with and investments in companies that boycott Israel, on May 2, 2017.  The bill prohibits the State of Texas from contracting or entering into business with companies or entities involved in the BDS movement against Israel.  The law ensures that public funds will not go to companies that participate in BDS.
Nevada June 2, 2017 After it unanimously passed the Nevada State Legislature a week earlier and the State Senate the month before, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Nevada’s very own anti-BDS legislation on June 2, 2017.  With the signing of the bill, Nevada became the 20th state to pass laws prohibiting state institutions and government bodies from doing business with those who unfairly boycott Israel.  Governor Sandoval had travelled to Israel with a delegation of Nevada businessmen in 2013, to encourage investment and business cooperation with his state.
Kansas June 16, 2017 Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed HB 2409 into law on June 16, 2017, prohibiting state agencies from contracting with entities that engage in Israel boycotts.  The legislation passed both the Kansas Senate and House during the previous week, in respective votes of 39-3 and 99-13.
North Carolina July 31, 2017 After passing the State House of Representatives by a vote of 96-19, and the State Senate in a 45-3 vote, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed his state’s anti-BDS legislation into law on July 31, 2017.  The legislation requires complete divestment from, and prohibits state agencies from contracting with, companies that engage in BDS campaigns against Israel.
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