New Jersey became the latest state to pass legislation against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement yesterday. By a 69-3 vote, the State Assembly passed a bill to prohibit pension fund investment in pro-boycott companies.
The legislation had passed the State Senate in May by a 39-0 vote. Now that both the Assembly and Senate have passed the legislation, it goes to Governor Chris Christie, who is expected to sign the bill.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat who represents Bergen, New Jersey, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the bill was about “bringing together people and making sure we don’t promote anti-Semitism.” The news outlet also reported that a spokesman for the New Jersey Treasury Department said they were not aware of any investments that would violate the law. A division of the department will be tasked with investigating if the state is indeed invested in pro-BDS entities.
The move by the State Assembly is a defeat for a coalition of civil liberties and pro-Palestine groups in New Jersey, who had mobilized in recent months to try and defeat the legislation. They said the bill is an attack on the First Amendment right to boycott Israel. Opponents also say that, in the state’s effort to determine which company violates the law, New Jersey would be creating a McCarthy-like “blacklist” that would necessitate investigation into people’s political beliefs.
New Jersey is now the eleventh state in the past year to pass anti-BDS legislation, according to Palestine Legal. Nine of those states’ governors have signed the bills into law. They range from bills, like in New Jersey, that prohibit pension fund investment in entities that boycott Israel or measures that bar state contracts or funding with institutions that support BDS. California and Pennsylvania are also considering anti-BDS measures. Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo made headlines when he issued a first-of-its-kind executive order directing agencies under his authority to investigate entities that support BDS and receive New York funds, put those entities on a list, and then strip them of cash from the state.
Pro-Israel groups have backed and lobbied for anti-BDS bills. After the New Jersey Assembly passed their own bill, Josh Block, former AIPAC spokesperson Josh Block and current head of The Israel Project, commended “the people of New Jersey and their elected officials for strongly standing up against baseless anti-Israel discrimination.”
The New Jersey bill passed both the Assembly and Senate despite opposition from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union. The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU delivered a letter this month to legislation harshly criticizing the bill. “The legislation, which attempts to punish companies that support boycotts of Israel or Israeli businesses, would unconstitutionally penalize people for what they think and say,” the group wrote. “Troublingly, the legislation mandates that the government launch investigations to determine which people’s political positions require their placement on a legislatively directed ‘blacklist.’”
New Jersey newspapers also blasted the bill. The New Jersey Star-Ledger said the legislation takes “Big Brother to the extreme” in a scathing editorial.
But the opposition was taking on legislators unlikely to heed their calls. Pro-Israel sentiment is a virtual given in state legislatures across the country. Governors are no different. Governor Christie has not deviated from the standard pro-Israel line. He will likely sign the legislation, and make New Jersey the 10th state to make an anti-BDS measure law.
Still, opponents of these laws may have their day in court. Legal groups have warned that such bills are unconstitutional, setting up a potential court fight over whether prohibiting state funds to pro-BDS entities is legal under the U.S. Constitution.