Anti-BDS Legislation Passes Pennsylvania Senate and House

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An anti-BDS bill has passed the Pennsylvania Serante by a 47 to 1 vote.

Less than a month after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the Pennsylvania Senate has passed a similar bill by a vote of 47 to 1. After an affirmative concurrence vote in the House, Pennsylvania HB 2107 is now on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his signature.

 

Should the bill be enacted, Pennsylvania would become the 14th state to pass anti-BDS legislation.


 

The prime sponsor of the bill is state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, a Republican serving Tioga County and parts of Bradford and Potter counties.

 

The bill — which also addresses questions regarding public access to procurement records and awarding a contract to a single source — contains anti-BDS language within the context of prohibited contracts.

 

The bill asserts that “Israel is America’s dependable, democratic ally in the Middle East, an area of paramount strategic importance to the United States” and that “it is in the interest of the United States and the Commonwealth to stand with Israel and other countries by promoting trade and commercial activities and to discourage policies that disregard that interest.”

 

For that reason, a company contracted by the Commonwealth is not permitted to be involved in a boycott—defined in the bill as “to blacklist, divest from or otherwise refuse to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender or national affiliation or origin of the targeted person or entity.”

 

Jacob Millner, of the Israel Project — a national nonpartisan educational organization that has been instrumental in pursuing anti-BDS legislation across the country — said he was pleased about the passage of the bill.

 

“I feel good about it. I’m pretty confident, though I don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch. But Pennsylvania has a lot of organization who have done a lot of good work on making this happen.”

 

Millner says the Pennsylvania bill is noteworthy because “it’s important that states make a statement on the right side of history, that they won’t invest their money or spend state money on companies that would engage in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic [activities].”

 

Millner called BDS “a form of economic warfare against the only Jewish state,” and added, “the state wouldn’t condone a company that would discriminate against African-Americans, women or gays and lesbians, and discrimination based on national origin is similar. The state has to take a stand on that.”

 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has voiced its opposition to the bill, which would make it possible for the state to defund universities that endorse on-campus BDS movements.

 

In a letter to U.S. Reps. Kay Granger and Nita Lowey, chair and ranking member, respectively, of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, the ACLU’s director Karin Johanson and chief of staff/First Amendment counsel Michael Macleod-Ball objected to “any proposed amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would condone state laws penalizing businesses and individuals who express support for a boycott, divestment, or sanctions (“BDS”) against Israel.”

 

The reason for this opposition, they wrote, was grounded in the belief that “states should not be deciding with whom they should do business on the basis of ideological predisposition. This is especially true where the ideological position has no connection whatsoever with the business relationship at stake.”

 

Johanson and Macleod-Ball went further by saying, “Make no mistake: the underlying state bills discriminate solely on the basis of the viewpoint of those impacted.” There are many businesses and individuals who do no business with Israel, they noted, but “only those who affirmatively express support for the BDS movement are barred from state contracts and investments even though there are others who refrain to the very same extent. They are penalized solely because they choose to express their opinion and because their opinion is disfavored by the political class in the states in question.”

 

This punishment, the two wrote, “flies in the face of the First Amendment’s guarantee that the state should impose no law infringing on the right to speak freely and to associate with those of like minds.”

 

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition has countered the ACLU’s opposition by stating, “HB 2107 does not hinder free speech. Any company can say, write or publish any statement against Israel they wish. Companies cannot formally perform a boycott, divestment or sanction against Israel if they wish to do business with the commonwealth.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747

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