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New Congressional Bill Supports States Fighting BDS

The Combating BDS Act of 2016 will support states’ right to cut ties with companies boycotting or divesting from Israel. It is slated to be introduced on Wednesday.

Liel Leibovitz
February 10, 2016

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are slated to introduce bipartisan legislation boosting efforts at the state and local levels to combat economic warfare against Israel, according to versions of the bills obtained exclusively by Tablet.

The bipartisan bills—sponsored by Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the Senate, and Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Bob Dold (R-IL) in the House—are slated to be introduced on Wednesday under the title “Combating BDS Act of 2016.” Among other things, they protect state and local governments’ right to disassociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.

This legislative move comes after a string of local victories against BDS. Last June, South Carolina passed a law prohibiting public entities in the state from signing contracts with business that boycott Israel. A little over a month later, Illinois passed a different law, requiring state pensions to terminate investment in companies that adhere to the BDS agenda.

An activist involved in state-by-state efforts to combat anti-Israel boycotts said he expects states pursuing measures modeled on the South Carolina and Illinois laws to reach double digits by summer. Similar bills have already been introduced in Ohio and California, with momentum in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, as well.

The new Congressional laws are aimed at signaling support and providing legal backing for such efforts. Proactively blocking any challenge that might arise to these state laws on the Federal level, the Combating BDS Act states that any effort by local government to divest its assets from, or prohibit investment in, any entity that “engages in a commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel” is “not preempted by any Federal law or regulation.”

With efforts to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state gaining serious traction on American college campuses and elsewhere, the newly proposed act is important because it empowers states to follow the conscience of their citizens, most of whom overwhelmingly support Israel, according to a recent Gallup poll, and categorically reject the BDS movement’s effort to single out Israel alone for opprobrium.

“Drawing on a 2010 federal law targeting companies engaged in business with Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime, this bipartisan bill would authorize state and local governments in the United States to follow Illinois’s lead and divest from companies engaged in boycotts and other forms of economic warfare against Israel,” said Senator Kirk. “With this bill, Congress underscores the critical role that state and local governments and their communities have to play in the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism worldwide.”

Saying that the BDS movement’s purpose was “to delegitimize Israel’s existence and inflame tensions in communities and on college campuses across the country,” Representative Dold said that the new legislation “empowers community leaders and individuals who seek to counter the hateful targeting of Israel, while sending an unquestionable message about our steadfast opposition to BDS and strong support for those who stand up for Israel.”

“I’m proud to support Rep. Dold’s effort to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement that targets Israel,” said Rep. Vargas. “BDS efforts depict Israel in a negative light causing a loss of economic opportunities and penalizing commercial relations.”

Groups that work on the U.S.-Israel relationship are describing the measure as the result of deep-seated, bi-partisan support for Israel.

“Americans continue to support Israel by enormous margins across party lines and within each party,” said Omri Ceren, a managing director at The Israel Project, a non-partisan DC-based organization that has been active in combating BDS on the federal and state levels. “It’s only natural that Congress would step in to support what their constituents in blue and red states are doing to stand with Israel.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.