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Georgia is the latest state to consider anti-BDS legislation (Updated)

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Update:

On March 24, 2016, the Georgia Senate passed SB 327, banning state contracts with businesses that boycott Israel. The bill passed 41 to 8, with support across party lines. The original bill would have also prevented county and municipal governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel, but the House passed an amendment limiting the ban to state agencies. Republican state Senator Judson Hill, who authored the original legislation, accepted the compromise, stating, “It’s better to have half a loaf than none.”

Original Post:

A rash of state legislation targeting the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to spread. A Georgia lawmaker recently introduced a bill that mirrors legislation pending in six other states in an effort to outlaw government contracts with businesses that boycott Israel.

Georgia State Senator Judson Hill introduced SB 327 with little fanfare earlier this month. The proposed law targets boycotts of Israel specifically, preventing the state from contracting with any entity that cannot provide, “a written certification that such individual or company is not currently engaged in, and agrees for the duration of the contract not to engage in, a boycott of Israel.”

“These bills exist because the BDS movement is growing in the U.S., and that’s making Israel’s fiercest advocates nervous,” said Rahul Saksena, an attorney at Palestine Legal, which has tracked anti-BDS legislation.

There isn’t exactly a robust BDS movement afoot in Georgia, but perhaps Hill recognizes that Georgia is an ample target for future BDS activism. In 2014, he authored a resolution affirming Israel’s right to exist, which passed the day after he introduced it, and which outlines the deep economic ties between the peach state and its purportedly sole Middle Eastern friend.

According to the resolution, “Israel is a top export destination for Georgia with exports totalling over $212 million.” Georgia imports over $337 million worth of goods from Israel. There are more than 45 Israeli companies in Georgia. And the Georgia Department of Economic Development even operates a trade office in Israel.

Hill’s resolution also noted the importance of the GILEE program, a Georgia-based exchange program for American and Israeli police, which activists have attempted to shut down in the past.

Hill’s current anti-BDS bill, and the ones it copies, fly in the face of the First Amendment, under which boycott is a protected form of freedom of speech. Now, federal lawmakers who oppose BDS are trying to get around that with a pair of bills introduced shortly after Hill’s landed in Georgia.

“It is time to go on offense against the BDS movement’s ongoing economic warfare,” said U.S. Representative Robert Dold (R-IL) when he introduced the “Combating BDS Act” in the House. His colleague, Mark Kirk (R-IL), introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The bills seek to authorize state and local governments to divest from entities that boycott Israel and protect them from legal challenges to anti-BDS laws.

“The sponsors of this bill seem to be encouraging state lawmakers to pass laws that infringe on our constitutional rights,” Saksena said. “Our federal lawmakers should know that they cannot authorize state legislators to violate the constitution.”

Dold and Kirk issued a joint press release, citing their home state’s new law––the first in the nation––that explicitly punishes boycotts of Israel.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last July, mandating that the state divest its pension funds from companies that boycott Israel. At the time, Palestine Legal said it would look into challenging the law.

It’s not clear whether there is an ALEC-style bill mill churning out anti-BDS model legislation for state lawmakers to glom onto, though there are indicators of such coordination.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said that it “built support” for the Illinois law, and “is advocating passage of similar legislation in 49 more states.”

Hill, the Georgia Senator, participated in a delegation to Israel sponsored by AJC in 2011, and said that it was “rewarding to learn more of the economic and strategic relationships our state has and continues to develop with the people, businesses and government of Israel.”

AIPAC, the dominant Israel lobby group in the U.S., has not been as vocal regarding state-level legislation, but had a direct hand in crafting the federal Combating BDS Act

AIPAC has also been instrumental in construing BDS as “economic warfare,” language that has cropped up in numerous anti-BDS bills. This language is particularly outrageous when leveled at activists challenging a nation which imposes an economic blockade as a form collective punishment of millions of people.

Summing up the current proliferation of anti-BDS legislation, Saksena said, “Instead of engaging in a conversation about Israel’s brutal occupation, [lawmakers are] attempting to take steps to shut down the conversation by punishing activists.”

About Anna Simonton

Anna Simonton is an independent journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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46 Responses

  1. Juan R.
    February 23, 2016, 2:14 pm

    BDS will fail because the “occupied territory of the West Bank” is not occupied. In 1948 israel was confirmed as a national entity by the U.N.[..] This subsequent partition plan of 1947 was merely a proposal and totally rejected by the Arabs. It has no legal standing whatsoever. The San Remo agreement and the Treaty of Lausanne are Israel’s Magna Carta and are in full force to this day. No country may try to change the legitimate borders of another country by intimidation, coercion or force.

  2. Talkback
    February 23, 2016, 2:24 pm

    I don’t get it. How do they know, if a company chooses to boycott Israel or just chooses to work with someone else than Israel for different reasons?

    • ritzl
      February 23, 2016, 2:57 pm

      Great question!

      THE question.

    • pmb1414
      February 23, 2016, 3:05 pm

      Exactly, it’s unenforceable. Georgia State Senator Hill is simply sucking up to the lobby for brownie points.
      We can criticize and boycott American made companies and their products to our hearts’ content and there wouldn’t be a peep out of these “American” Israel-firsters.

      • Mooser
        February 23, 2016, 5:58 pm

        If I am not mistaken, there are perfectly good legal and business reasons why an American company would have nothing to do with operating in occupied territory. Gonna be hard to force them to do that without paying them for taking the risk. Is that the next step, subsidies?

    • a blah chick
      February 23, 2016, 4:13 pm

      “How do they know, if a company chooses to boycott Israel or just chooses to work with someone else than Israel for different reasons?”

      They can’t, which is why anti-BDS legislation won’t work. If working with or in Israel costs you money how can they force you to stay?

      I read recently that Sodastream said it was thinking of pulling out of Israel, the reason: security issues keep many of their workers away and it’s disrupting production. If that should come to past think about the ramifications for the anti-BDSers, it would make their heads explode.

      • Ellen
        February 24, 2016, 1:51 am

        @ Mooser, no you are not mistaken. And the ongoing enforcement of reparations for business conduct 70-80 years ago gives us precedent in the courts.

        There is a reason the European insurance and banking industry now actively avoids business in the illegally occupied regions. And it is not ideology.

    • Sibiriak
      February 24, 2016, 12:25 am

      Talkback: How do they know, if a company chooses to boycott Israel or just chooses to work with someone else than Israel for different reasons?

      ——————————

      1) Entities wishing to contract with the state would be required to submit a “ written certification that such individual or company is not currently engaged in, and agrees for the duration of the contract not to engage in, a boycott of Israel.”

      2)Evidence of a boycott policy could include internal company documents, memos, emails etc., as well as testimony from company employees. Unexpected and financially questionable cancellation of/ failure to renew contracts with Israeli entities would draw suspicion.

      3) Whether or not these anti-boycott laws are easily enforceable, they give businesses a legal reason to reject BDS. It’s harder to put pressure on a company to boycott Israel when they can say “that’s against the law”. (Those companies making money trading with Israel already have plenty of motive to continue doing so.)

      4) It’s a battle for public opinion as well: these laws are part of the overall effort to delegitimize the BDS movement. It’s yet to be seen how the public reacts–these laws could backfire.

      • Talkback
        February 24, 2016, 9:08 am

        Thank you Sibiriak.

      • Froggy
        February 25, 2016, 5:00 pm

        Excellent, Sibiriak. Thank you.

    • Froggy
      February 25, 2016, 6:54 pm

      They can’t.

      (It really is that simple.)

  3. Another Dave
    February 23, 2016, 2:31 pm

    I’m wondering if this sort of thing will inspire more people to boycott Israel (and not just follow the suggestions of the BDS movement, but boycott the entire country).

    If I’m told by the government that I ought not read a specific book, I will go out of my way to read the damn thing. If you get your new book banned by Boston, doesn’t that result in a best seller in the rest of the country?

    Well, you can call me mean, but I’m not going to stop them from shooting themselves in their feet.

    • ritzl
      February 23, 2016, 7:49 pm

      Great point. I hope you’re right about the “banned in Boston” effect. I think you are.

      These anti-BDS legislative efforts are so obviously poorly conceived because they simply cannot be well conceived — under the US Constitution anyway. So all this anti-BDS frothing at the mouth is advertising FOR BDS.

      • Sibiriak
        February 24, 2016, 12:29 am

        Good points. Let’s hope this backfires. To me it looks like a long war.

    • echinococcus
      March 2, 2016, 5:08 pm

      It’s high time to expose and ridicule the official suggestions of the ‘BDS movement”. Who’s the son of *&^% gonna order me not to boycott the Zionist entity in order to boycott the goddam Zionist entity? That’s exactly what I hope all these bans will achieve.

  4. ritzl
    February 23, 2016, 2:55 pm

    These proposed bills are all both feet over the cliff. They can’t possibly have any effect unless the way business is done is radically changed by these states COMPELLING businesses to do some or a certain fraction of their annual business wit Israel.

    “Boycotting” businesses can simply say that Israeli business did not meet some solicitation criterion. Heck, they don’t have to “say” anything at all about their purchasing decisions. The only way to overcome that pristine (and overwhelmingly subscribed to by the right wing) prerogative of business to control its own decisions/fate is state compulsion.

    Never going to happen.

    Or if it does (It would have to be as a civil rights issue, imho. But even that raises unanswerable, zero-sum questions on the beneficiary side of the zero-sum rights-transference equation.), in a US business world where somehow legislators are compelling their own citizens to actually ACT against the citizens’ own self-interest to support Israel, blowback will be swift, broad, funded, and targeted.

    These efforts seem, to me anyway, to be classic panicked endgame overreach. They still need to be contested.

    Thanks for the article.

  5. eljay
    February 23, 2016, 3:01 pm

    … A Georgia lawmaker recently introduced a bill that mirrors legislation pending in six other states in an effort to outlaw government contracts with businesses that boycott Israel. Georgia State Senator Judson Hill introduced SB 327 with little fanfare earlier this month. The proposed law targets boycotts of Israel specifically, preventing the state from contracting with any entity that cannot provide, “a written certification that such individual or company is not currently engaged in, and agrees for the duration of the contract not to engage in, a boycott of Israel.” …

    The donkey is truly GARGANTUAN that it can be simultaneously fellated by so many people, businesses, American states and world nations.

  6. Jon66
    February 23, 2016, 10:51 pm

    Can a state compel a lunch counter in Georgia to serve African Americans-Yes.

    Can a state compel a business to sell its products to Israel- I don’t know, but it would seem so.

    Can a state compel a business to buy from a Muslim supplier? I don’t know but if the business doesn’t have a legitimate business interest in not doing business with the Muslim owned entity they could be prosecuted.

    I have no idea how they would enforce this with respect to Israel, but both state and federal laws compel business to buy and sell from those protected classes. How do they prove that a hypothetical contractor won’t buy supplies from a protected class of persons I’m not sure but the laws do get enforced. Of course it’s easier to prove discrimination in refusing to sell/serve than in buying.

    • talknic
      February 24, 2016, 3:11 am

      @ Jon66 “Can a state compel a lunch counter in Georgia to serve African Americans-Yes”

      Critical thinking skills Jon66. Ever tried them? That state would be in the US and the customers US citizens. Israel is not in the US.

      “Dr, the patient’s appendix is in his thigh, amputation isn’t necessary. You won’t need a bone saw”

      “I’m the surgeon nurse!”

      “Oh dear, the Dr has been trying self lobotomy again!”

      “Can a state compel a business to sell its products to Israel- I don’t know, but it would seem so.”

      “it would seem so” based on what? You forgot to tell us

      As for the rest of your post you’re right … you don’t know

      • talknic
        February 24, 2016, 7:18 am

        Ooooops Correction :

        “Dr, the patient’s appendix isn’t in his thigh, amputation isn’t necessary. You won’t need a bone saw”

        “… … … etc”

      • Jon66
        February 24, 2016, 7:35 am

        Talk,
        One question concerning the anti-BDS laws is whether they can be enforced. How could a state know that a business wasn’t selling to Israel for legitimate business reasons rather than because of BDS. If Someone were to file a complaint against the business alleging this I would expect it would be investigated in the same manner as public accommodation laws. I don’t see why Israel not being in the US would alter this approach.

      • Mooser
        February 24, 2016, 11:51 am

        “How could a state know that a business wasn’t selling to Israel for legitimate business reasons rather than because of BDS.”

        Gee, “Jon66” maybe it’s because their insurers, their risk managers, their bank, and their lawyers are all saying “Don’t do business in the illegally occupied territory.

        Is somebody going to come up with expert testimony saying they should violate bunches of laws and take on a ridiculous risk and liability by operating in the occupied territory?

        You know a lot about business, “Jon66”

      • talknic
        February 24, 2016, 7:05 pm

        @ Jon66

        “How could a state know that a business wasn’t selling to Israel for legitimate business reasons rather than because of BDS”

        One legitimate business reason is that no one can be made or be expected to be complicit in or abetting war crimes

        “If Someone were to file a complaint against the business alleging this I would expect it would be investigated in the same manner as public accommodation laws”

        “public accommodation laws” are a domestic issue

        “I don’t see why Israel not being in the US would alter this approach”

        I understand a Zioapologist’s need not to see

  7. Sibiriak
    February 24, 2016, 2:02 am

    Canada has passed a motion to condemn “any and all attempts” to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel both at home and abroad. The motion passed on Monday by a 229-51 vote https://www.rt.com/news/333411-israel-canada-boycott-motion/
    ———————–

    The anti-BDS actions by many governments do indicate one thing: the S in BDS is nowhere in sight.

    After ten years of successful struggle, the most urgent issue that needs to be raised today is the “S” in the BDS acronym, or the campaigning for Sanctions against Israel.

    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/05/understanding-sanctions-israel/

    ————–

    It is time for the BDS movement to step up its game. In particular, Noam Chomsky recently pointed out that nearly all BDS activities are restricted to consumer boycotts (B) and institutional divestment (D). To extend his analysis, in practice the movement’s acronym is BD, not BDS, because of the lack of advocacy and activity for the U.S. government to enact sanctions (S) on Israel.

    In our view, this omission is unfortunate because the historical record is clear. Government sanctions are far more effective than individual or institutional actions to change the behavior of governments .

    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/05/understanding-sanctions-israel/

  8. MHughes976
    February 24, 2016, 1:15 pm

    I would think that these laws will have symbolic and nuisance value rather than dramatic effect, but they do raise interesting questions. I don’t think that there will be grand investigations unless an Israeli customer is turned away very conspicuously. The other side is not panicking, it’s just reacting to a slight disturbance in its complacent slumber and wriggling angrily. Boycotts are not being made illegal but are being counter-boycotted. There is no right to operate boycotts or make political demonstrations at no cost of any kind to oneself. On the other hand if boycotts are speech, so part of free speech if freely undertaken, then a boycott or counter-boycott which one is compelled, by fear of being boycotted oneself, to join is enforced speech, which is morally wrong.
    The really interesting step would be for Georgia or someone to say that anyone who has a contract with us must accept a pro-Israel clause and furthermore impose the same clause in all their other contracts, creating a situation where any dissenter would be put out of business. But that would be too crazy for words.

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