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The Illinois State Capital building(Wikipedia)

Illinois lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on Monday to boycott companies that boycott Israel.

The measure prevents Illinois pension funds from investing in foreign firms that participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel; it’s the first such legislation at the state level. The measure also amends an existing Illinois law that prevents pension funds from investing in companies that do business with Iran and Sudan.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner tweeted soon after the measure was passed that he looks forward to signing the bill and “making IL first in the nation to fight BDS against Israel.”

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago worked closely with state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D) and Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D) to ensure the bill’s passage.

“At the core of the BDS movement is a quest to delegitimize Israel as a sovereign, democratic, and Jewish state,” Chicago Jewish United Fund President Steven Nasatir said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation sends a strong message that Illinois will not tolerate such efforts.”

It directs the Illinois Investment Policy Board to send a written notice to companies that participate in BDS warning that they will be removed from the state pension system’s portfolios if they do not end their boycott of Israel. It’s still unclear whether any firms in the pension system’s funds participate in BDS, Sen. Silverstein said.

Legislators in several other states hope to pass their own anti-BDS laws in light of Illinois’ success, Rep. Feigenholtz said.

The measure does not distinguish between Israel and the Palestinian territories, which the bill’s critics say affirms Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Companies that boycott Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories would be subject to divestment under the bill. 

The Illinois bill follows similar efforts by Congress to penalize companies that boycott Israel. Lawmakers have approved amendments to the House and Senate versions of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill to discourage U.S. trading partners from engaging in activity that “discourages, penalizes, or otherwise limits commercial relations with Israel.” These amendments take aim at European countries that have urged Israel to label products made in West Bank settlements.

Last month, Indiana and Tennessee passed nonbinding resolutions condemning BDS. Tennessee’s resolution calls the BDS movement “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

But some advocates have protested anti-BDS legislation, which they say wrongly conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Jewish Voice for Peace has condemned the TPA amendments, saying that they would “institutionalize support for the Israeli occupation and attempt to criminalize non-violent boycotts of Israel.”

Whatever else they disagree on, supporters and opponents of anti-BDS legislation both say the laws seek to drive back the growing success of the BDS movement.

“There’s been a lot of BDS activity,” Rep. Feigenholtz said. “The BDS movement threatens to cripple Israel’s economically. We have decided that it’s our state’s right to fight back.”

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