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Penn. Gov. Signs Anti-Discrimination Law Barring State From Working With Israel Boycotters

Pennsylvania has become the latest state to adopt bipartisan legislation prohibiting its agencies from contracting with companies that support discrimination based on national origin, including through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, the Jewish Exponent reported Friday.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed HB 2107 on Friday after it overwhelmingly passed the state’s House of Representatives by a vote of 181-9 and the Senate by a vote of 47-1.

The bill bars Pennsylvania and its agencies from doing business with an entity that refuses “to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender or national affiliation or origin of the targeted person or entity.”

“Israel is America’s dependable, democratic ally in the Middle East, an area of paramount strategic importance to the United States,” the bill adds, noting that “it is in the interest of the United States and the commonwealth to stand with Israel and other countries by promoting trade and commercial activities and to discourage policies that disregard that interest.”

“We must make clear that we are in favor of a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict and that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the United States, stand behind our friends and allies, and will not encourage economic punishment in place of peaceful solutions to challenging conflicts,” Wolf said at the bill signing. “We, as a Commonwealth, must make sure that Pennsylvania is not contributing to a cause that is antithetical to our country’s position on the world’s stage.”

Republican Rep. Keith Baker, who introduced the legislation, said that by signing it into law, “we are also reaffirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in peace, security, stability and prosperity and at the same time acknowledging their many contributions in medicine, technology and leadership in fostering equality and opportunity for all.”

“Pennsylvania has a long and historic relationship with the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Those who are making efforts to disrupt Israel’s economy, boycott companies that do business with Israel, boycott companies within Israel and in areas under its control also advocating for divestiture, are doing nothing short of waging a war of economic genocide against the Jewish state,” he added.

Jacob Millner, a senior policy analyst with The Israel Project, which publishes The Tower, explained the law’s significance to the Exponent. “It’s important that states make a statement on the right side of history, that they won’t invest their money or spend state money on companies that would engage in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic [activities],” he said. “The state wouldn’t condone a company that would discriminate against African-Americans, women, or gays and lesbians, and discrimination based on national origin is similar. The state has to take a stand on that.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a similar law in September that prevents state agencies from discriminating against any federally recognized nation or peoples, including Israel. In August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law barring his state’s pension fund from investing in companies that boycott Israel. In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order prohibiting the state from doing business with any entity that boycotts Israel.

Other states that have passed anti-BDS legislation include IllinoisSouth Carolina, Tennessee, ArizonaGeorgia, Colorado, Florida, and Alabama. Advocates of these measure have emphasized that the legislation does not raise any First Amendment issues because private parties are still free to boycott Israel, but states may be obligated to avoid promoting or supporting discrimination based on religion, race, or nationality.

Following passage of the Illinois bill last year, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich said that the measure reflected an understanding that “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.” Last month, the student body at one of Europe’s oldest universities similarly denounced the BDS campaign as anti-Semitic, saying that it recalls the Nazi-era slogan, “Don’t buy from Jews.”

Foreign investment in Israel has nearly tripled since the BDS campaign was formally launched by Palestinian groups in 2005, hitting a record high of $285.12 billion last year.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, outlined at a congressional hearing in April how members of a network that used to fund Hamas have become the driving force behind the BDS campaign in the U.S. through the group American Muslims for Palestine. More recently, Schanzer pointed the ties between BDS groups and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist organization blacklisted by the U.S. and EU.

The BDS campaign attempts to delegitimize and isolate Israel in an effort to advance Palestinian interests, and many of its leaders have publicly affirmed that they seek Israel’s destruction. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, an opponent of the two-state solution, said in 2014 that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance,” while leading activist As’ad Abu Khalil acknowledged in 2012 that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.”

[Photo: arianravan / Flickr ]