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Movement Against Israel Boycotts Gains Steam as Iowa’s Governor Signs Anti-Boycott Bill

Iowa’s governor signed into law [1] on Tuesday a bill that prohibits state funds from being invested in businesses that boycott Israel.

The legislation, House File 2331, passed [2] Iowa’s senate by an overwhelming 38-9 margin last month after being approved in the House by a vote of 70-24 in February.

“I think it sends an important and very clear signal that we are not going to do business with people who boycott Israel,” said Gov. Terry Branstad. “We think that is wrong, and we think that is a prejudicial position that some countries and some companies have taken and we will take a stand on the side of what is right and good.”

The bill prohibits the Iowa Board of Regents, the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, and some other state pension funds from entering into contracts worth over $1,000 with firms that boycott Israel.

Iowa is the eighth state to pass legislation combating boycotts of Israel, following Illinois [3]South Carolina [4], Tennessee [5], Arizona [6], Georgia [7], Colorado, and Florida.

Advocates of the bill that was signed into law in Arizona emphasized [8] that such legislation does not raise any First Amendment issues because private parties are still free to engage in boycotts, but states may be obligated to avoid supporting discrimination based on religion, race, or nationality.

The Jerusalem Post reported [9] on the growing momentum of the movement against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign on Wednesday, noting that anti-boycott bills were already introduced in states including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Ohio.

“What we are really focused on doing is helping coordinate the efforts,” Jacob Millner, Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst of the The Israel Project, told the Post. He explained that The Israel Project got involved in the Iowa effort after groups in the state reached out to the organization for assistance. The Israel Project publishes The Tower.

“It means educating legislators, educating the community. In some cases it is coordinating with the organized Jewish community on the ground and helping people wherever we can: with resources, with media, with legal advice, whatever it is that we can provide for them so that we can help make these efforts successful in as many states as possible,” Millner said.

At a congressional hearing last month, Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, outlined [10] how members of a network that used to fund Hamas have become the driving force behind the BDS campaign against Israel in the United States.

The Iowa bill is the latest blow to the campaign, which seeks to stigmatize and isolate Israel socially, economically, and politically until it accedes to a number of unilateral Palestinian demands. Critics of BDS have accused it of being discriminatory [11] in tone and intention, and pointed out that many of its leaders have publicly affirmed [12] that they seek Israel’s destruction. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, an opponent of the two-state solution, said [13] in 2014 that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance,” while leading activist As’ad Abu Khalil acknowledged [14] in 2012 that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.”

A bipartisan congressional bill introduced [15] in Washington DC in February is designed to support states that pass anti-BDS legislation.

Following passage of the Illinois bill last year, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich said [16] that the measure reflected a belief “that in the eyes of America, the BDS is not like the civil rights protests, as its supporters love to claim, but rather more like the anti-Jewish boycotts so common in Europe in the 20th century, and in the Arab world until this day.”

In Israel Gives Much More to the U.S. Economy Than You Imagined [17], which was published in the March 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine, Aaron Menenberg analyzed the benefits of Israeli trade with the U.S., and concluded:

All things considered, one would be hard-pressed to find an alliance more effective than the one between the United States and Israel. The Jewish state is a small country in population and size, but the benefits America realizes from its trade and collaboration with Israel are often comparable to much larger and wealthier nations, and in some cases may even exceed them. From individual states to the national economy, Israel’s impact is outsized: Hundreds of thousands of jobs, technological improvements, and science and healthcare advances that boost our material and physical quality of life.

Looked at this way, it becomes easy to see that the BDS movement’s attack on Israel’s economy, not to mention its encouragement of academic and scientific boycotts, directly hurts Americans. Just as the movement claims to be helping the Palestinians, but in fact harms Palestinian interests, it also harms what is perhaps America’s most important interest: its economic success. Regardless of your position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if you support a stronger American economy and workforce, you should oppose boycotting Israel. It is important for Americans to know this, and for the anti-boycott effort to expand to include them.

[Photo: Mark Goebel / Flickr ]