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Ohio Legislature Passes Bill Barring State From Working With Israel Boycotters

Ohio’s Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill to prevent taxpayer funds from being used to support entities that participate in discriminatory boycotts of Israel.

House Bill 476 was approved by a vote of 26-5, a week after it passed the state’s House of Representatives by an 81-13 margin, the Cleveland Jewish News reported. The legislation, which prohibits the state from contracting with entities that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, now heads to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

“Our state’s relationship with Israel generates more than $200 million of economic benefit for Ohio each year,” said Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), the primary sponsor of the bill, after it passed the House. “This legislation provides more opportunities for Ohio to continue its strong alliance with Israel, as well as bolster our economy here at home.”

The bipartisan bill had 13 co-sponsors, including Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville). It follows the passage of several similar measures nationwide, including in PennsylvaniaIllinoisSouth Carolina, Tennessee, ArizonaGeorgia, Colorado, Florida, Alabama, CaliforniaNew Jersey, and New York (by executive order).

Advocates of these measures have emphasized that they do 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.” In August, 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.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party, the Christian Democratic Union, echoed this criticism earlier this week, expressing “its disapproval and rejection of every form of BDS activity and condemns these activities as anti-Semitic.”

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 United States through the group American Muslims for Palestine.

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: Flickr ]