By Andrew Lapin
Iowa’s governor signed bills into law this week codifying a definition of antisemitism for the state and restricting state business with companies that boycott Israel.
One of the two bills signed by Republican Kim Reynolds on Wednesday calls for the state to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in discrimination and anti-bias training.
The other builds on an existing section of the state code that prohibited it from investing in “companies that boycott Israel,” by expanding the definition of a “company” to include subsidiaries and parent companies.
“Today we express Iowa’s enduring support for the State of Israel and our categorical rejection of anti-Semitism,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Together, these bills send an important message: Iowa continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with the State of Israel, one of America’s most important and reliable allies while fighting all forms of religious and ethnic discrimination.”
The bills fall into two separate but related trends of legislation. The IHRA’s 2016 working definition of antisemitism, while controversial for including certain criticisms of Israel, has also been adopted by more than 800 entities worldwide, including 200 just last year, according to a recent study by the Combat Antisemitism Movement and Tel Aviv University. Its use in anti-bias training, as is proposed in the new Iowa law, has proven popular even as some Republicans are seeking to outlaw anti-bias training altogether.
And state provisions on working with companies that “boycott Israel,” passed in a flurry during the initial heyday of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, have reentered the spotlight since the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would no longer do business in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Since that announcement, numerous states (including Colorado just this week) have invoked their anti-boycott laws to divest public funds from Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s.
Though Iowa has already had such a provision on the books since 2016, the specific description of which companies are now included under the law would likely make it easier for the state to inflict subsequent punishment on Unilever over the Ben & Jerry’s controversy. The bill was first introduced last month.
Reynolds was accompanied at the signing ceremony by Yinam Cohen, Israel’s Consulate General to the Midwest.
About 5,400 Jews live in Iowa, making up 0.2% of the state’s population, according to a 2020 study by Jewish demographers Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky.