Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order Monday barring the state from contracting with any companies that support the nonviolent, Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
Flanked by pro-Israel lawmakers and lobbyists — including members of the highly influential Baltimore Jewish Council that made anti-BDS legislation its main priority in 2016 — Hogan became the second state governor to issue a directive against the boycott of Israel.
New York Governor Cuomo signed a similar, first-of-its-kind order against the use of boycotts to advocate for an end to Israel’s human rights abuses in June of last year, kowtowing to the pro-Israel lobby and drawing the ire of civil liberties groups, Palestine solidarity activists and free speech advocates.
Hogan characterized the goals of BDS as contrary to the maintenance of economic ties between his state and the foreign government of Israel.
“As long as I am governor of Maryland” he declared, “there is no place in our state for boycotts and threats which seek to undermine sincere dialogue.”
But the language of the executive order is far from “sincere,” in that it transforms the internationally recognized occupied Palestinian territories into “Israel and its territories,” revealing an apparent commitment to Israel’s indefinite occupation of the West Bank.
Even the U.S. State Department refers to the area in question as the Occupied Territories.
Nevertheless, Howard Libit, Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, put the usual spin on BDS, casting it as a discriminatory movement that seeks the destruction of Israel.
“This executive order stands up against companies that seek to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and negate the right of Israel to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” Libit said in a statement.
The move comes just a few months after Maryland State Senator Robert Zirkin and State Delegate Ben Kramer introduced commensurate legislation that would have in addition, prohibited the state from investing pension funds in firms supporting the boycott.
Thanks in large part to opposition from the diverse Freedom2Boycott in Maryland coalition, the measure failed.
Saqib Ali, co-founder of Freedom2Boycott and a former Maryland state legislator, said Monday’s executive order shows the hubris of staunchly pro-Israel voices and their disregard for democratic institutions.
And although disappointed with the development, Ali expects the move to backfire, as it grates on Americans’ sensibilities of First Amendment protected speech.
“You don’t have to be somebody who pays close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be outraged by this,” Ali told Mondoweiss.
As of last month, 21 states had enacted anti-BDS legislation, including the executive orders in New York and Maryland, while Minnesota and Massachusetts currently have anti-BDS measures pending in their respective legislatures.
These measures, while they differ somewhat between states, all rely on a combination of blacklists, prohibition of government contracts and pension fund divestment, according to Palestine Legal.
Three separate bills have been introduced to Congress as part of an effort, in coordination with state directives, to bar BDS on the Federal level.
Both the Combating BDS Act and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act were introduced in the Congress this year with bipartisan support, and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act passed the Senate in 2016 but too late for the House of Representatives to follow up. It is almost certain to be reintroduced in 2017, notes Palestine Legal.
Legal groups have characterized these bills as unconstitutional and McCarthyite in nature.
And before these more blatant measures to defeat BDS, anti-BDS provisions have been slipped into unrelated bills. For example, the Trade Promotions Authority, signed into law in 2015 by President Barack Obama, included among its many free trade provisions, a section “discouraging politically-motivated boycotts of Israel.”
Nathan Feldman of Maryland, a member of Freedom2Boycott and Baltimore Palestine Solidarity, says the categorical passage of anti-BDS measures is ultimately an indicator of the movement’s success.
“I think that the fact that we’re making people in power flinch is very good news,” Feldman told Mondoweiss. Feldman notes that among his elected representatives are Governor Hogan and Senator Ben Cardin, lead sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
The groundswell of support for BDS is a threat, Feldman tells Mondoweiss to their “positions of power and so [lawmakers are] resorting to increasingly Draconian measures.”
Indeed, over the past few weeks the unconstitutionality of anti-BDS attempts has returned to the public eye, with two of the most cartoonish anti-BDS implementations yet.
In Texas last week, the city of Dickinson made Hurricane Harvey relief conditional on residents certifying in writing that they do not and will not support the boycott of Israel. City officials said the measure was due to anti-BDS legislation passed and enacted at the state level, but Dickinson appeared to be the only city to include this stipulation with regard to hurricane relief.
Over the summer, a Kansas teacher was denied a job training math teachers after refusing to sign a pledge to not engage in the boycott of Israel. A curriculum coach, Esther Koontz had chosen to boycott Israeli goods that profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights, and said she could not in good conscience sign or act upon such a pledge.
The ACLU recently filed a federal lawsuit targeting the Kansas state law, which is quite similar to others across the U.S., both in implementation and in its violation of the right to boycott as First Amendment protected free speech.
In light of these recent events, Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called Governor Hogan’s move “remarkably tone deaf.” Munayyer noted, however, that the anti-BDS fervor indicates Israel and its supporters’ acknowledgement that it is losing the battle for U.S. public opinion.
“When the state of Israel responds and their supporters respond with repression, either through the form of these kinds of anti-BDS laws or other forms of repression aimed at Palestinian rights activists, what people see there is not an engagement with the argument but rather a silencing of discussion,” Munayyer told Mondoweiss.
As Israel is a regional military powerhouse, it knows how to respond to militarized challenges, he said. “But because of its position of power it is really in a very weak position to respond to nonviolent challenges. If it confronts those challenges with power-plays like this, it loses the argument in the court of public opinion.”