In a victory for Israel advocates, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on Saturday.
Brown’s signature makes California the 13th state to enact an anti-BDS measure, most of which bar state contracts or pension funds from going to entities–non-profits or corporations–that support BDS. (12 of those states, including California, passed the law through the normal legislative process. In New York, though, Governor Andrew Cuomo bypassed the legislature and signed an executive order barring state funds from flowing to entities that support BDS.)
California’s law is slightly different than other states’ in that it requires a company who receives a state contract over $100,000 to certify, under penalty of perjury, that any policy they have against Israel, including a boycott, is not discriminatory. Legal organizations against the bill–the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal and the National Lawyers Guild–have criticized the language as potentially leading to a floodgate of “complaints, investigations, and possible felony prosecutions into the thoughts and beliefs motivating a prospective contractor’s support for Palestinian human rights,” as they wrote in a letter opposing the bill.
Asked for comment on the bill, Deborah Hoffman, a spokesperson for Governor Brown, told Mondoweiss “we are letting the governor’s signature speak for itself and won’t be commenting any further.”
Brown’s decision is the latest victory for pro-Israel groups, who have lobbied legislators across the country to enact anti-BDS legislation. California is one of the most significant prizes for pro-Israel groups. It’s the most populous state in the country and activists groups on opposing sides of the issue have waged intense battles over BDS and Israel-Palestine. The University of California, Berkeley’s decision to suspend a class on Palestine and settler-colonialism–and then reverse that decision–was the latest case to make headlines in the state and the country.
Anti-BDS bills are pending in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, and it is likely other states will consider similar legislation in the coming months.
The news that Brown signed the bill into law came as one the main groups pushing for the legislation, the Israeli-American Council, gathered in Washington, D.C. for a conference featuring the likes of Dennis Ross, Rudy Giuliani and Sheldon Adelson. Adam Milstein, the national chairman of the council, celebrated the “sensational news” on Twitter.
— Adam Milstein – IAC (@AdamMilsteinIAC) September 24, 2016
“The bill sends the clear and unmistakable message that the state of California wants no part of the goals and tactics of the BDS movement,” said Janna Weinstein Smith, the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles Regional Director, in a statement. The group had joined the Israeli-American Council in lobbying for the bill. “Thanks to this legislation, those who wish to target Jews and Israelis for discrimination will not be doing business with the state of California.”
Brown’s signature on the bill brings an end to a months-long battle over the precise text of the bill. Originally, the legislation, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, sought to bar state contracts over $10,000 from going to pro-BDS companies. Then, after lobbying by civil liberties groups and advocates of BDS, references to Israel and BDS were stripped out of the text. But Bloom ultimately succeeded in crafting language that his colleagues were comfortable with, and references to Israel and BDS were reinserted.
Estee Chandler, a leader in the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, told Mondoweiss she was not surprised at the outcome of the fight over the BDS bill. Chandler and other Palestine solidarity activists had appealed to Brown by noting his friendship with and support for Cesar Chavez, the legendary Latino labor activist who used boycotts to win victories for farm workers.
“We’d hoped his history would play a role in his reading of this,” said Chandler. She is worried that the bill may impact church groups who receive state money and whose denominations have divested from firms linked to the Israeli army.
Still, Chandler added that the fight over Palestine and BDS is “not a short game but a long game. We need to take the example of the Palestinian people–they are committed and they are steadfast. And we need to keep moving on and keep doing what we do, keep educating the public and educating legislators, because if you wanna change US policy you need to change the understanding that legislators and staffers have of the situation.”
She said that during the campaign against Brown’s bill, she saw some success when staffers and legislators told her and other advocates, off the record, that they wanted the legislation to go away.
But those sentiments did not translate into many votes. Only two legislators–Assemblyman Mark Stone and Senator Bill Monning–voted no on the bill when it came up for votes in late August.
Brown’s office then fielded calls and e-mails from activists on both sides of the issue, asking him to veto or sign the legislation. On September 24, Brown made up his mind. He signed the bill into law, and California joined the growing number of states that have taken aim at the BDS movement.