With the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel making some noise on American college campuses and across Europe, its opponents have begun to strike back. Last month, the Illinois state legislature unanimously approved a bill barring the state from investing its pension funds in companies that boycott Israel. The legislation put a hefty price tag on participation in BDS: It ensured that taxpayer money would not go toward supporting companies that join forces with a movement widely understood as seeking to abolish the world’s only Jewish state.
Yesterday, South Carolina became the second state to join this anti-BDS brigade by passing a law that bars state agencies from contracting with any business that boycotts others “based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” The last item on the list—”national origin”—effectively encompasses boycotts of the state of Israel, but is not limited to them. Both bills enable citizens to ensure that their taxes are not used to indirectly bolster a movement they oppose.
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law who consulted with the drafters of South Carolina’s bill, explained the rationale for this sort of legislation in The Washington Post:
A major tactic of BDS is to attempt to get state universities and other governmental entities to cut ties with Israel. There is no doubt that BDS proponents are within their constitutional rights to seek governmental action against companies in response to the alleged bad deeds of Israel’s government. But this constitutional protection is not one-sided, and cuts both ways. Supporters of Israel can seek government action in response to the alleged bad deeds of the boycotters.
Given the ease with which Illinois and South Carolina passed their laws, it seems likely that similar pro-Israel bills will be brought to the floors of other state legislatures in the future. At the same time, Congress has approved an anti-BDS amendment to the negotiating guidelines for the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty it is currently debating. The provision commits the U.S. to discouraging anti-Israel boycotts as part of its trade talks with Europe, adding a federal and international dimension to the broadening anti-BDS backlash.