Legal Expert: First Test of New Illinois Law Showed How Anti-Israel Tactics Backfired

A new law preventing the state of Illinois from doing business with entities that boycott Israel has just exposed a major failure of the BDS campaign, Northwestern University Law School professor Eugene Kontorovich explained in Tablet on Thursday.

The announcement by global security firm G4S a few months ago that it was selling its Israel-based affiliate was hailed as a major victory by the BDS campaign. Given the terms of the Illinois law, G4S was notified that the state could divest from the company, because G4S’s actions were widely perceived to be part of a boycott effort. In response, G4S produced evidence to the Illinois Pension Board that not only explained that its decision to sell was strictly on business terms, but also that it intended to maintain broader, long-term business ties with Israel, albeit with a lower profile.

Kontorovich summed up the two-fold effect of the Illinois anti-boycott law:

The story of the anti-boycott laws and G4S reveals many interesting lessons. Firstly, G4S–one of the BDS movement‘s greatest alleged “victories”–is not only not “boycotting” Israel, it has committed to keeping an operational presence there for decades to come. In short, one of BDS’s biggest successes is a colossal failure. This also shows something about how the BDS campaign works.

It is not about convincing companies to change their views about Israel. Rather, it is about pestering and harassing them. G4S obviously saw great value–and no moral problem–in continuing to operate in Israel. However, even such companies face pressure to appease boycott activists: this shows that boycott activity by companies is typically not political, but simply a response to pressure. That is important to keep in mind when boycott activists attack anti-BDS laws for limiting “corporate speech” about Israel.

After the passage of the Illinois anti-boycott law last year, Kontorovich explained to The Tower that “companies don’t want to boycott Israel. In fact, companies targeted by the BDS campaign are currently doing profitable business with Israel, but are afraid of the tactics of the BDS campaign that want them to stop. This allows companies a good response to the BDS campaign. The Illinois law will give protection to businesses—such as Caterpillar—and help save jobs in Illinois. The law, if it has any effect on the performance of the pension fund, will be a positive one.”

[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]