Maryland lawmakers should approve a proposed bill that aims to prevent “taxpayer money from being used to support discrimination against Israel,” a longstanding trading partner and friend of the state, Josh Block, CEO and president of The Israel Project, wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Wednesday. The Israel Project publishes The Tower.
Block began by describing the strong commercial ties between Israel and Maryland, where more than 24 Israeli companies maintain their U.S. headquarters. Maryland exported over $145 million in goods to Israel in 2015, and every governor in the state since 1992 has led a trade mission to Israel.
Beyond business interests, Maryland and Israel both “value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Block wrote. “We value the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press — especially today. Israel protects these freedoms, too.”
The bipartisan measure introduced in both houses of Maryland’s General Assembly — HB 0949 in the House of Delegates, SB 0739 in the Senate — seeks to protect these ties by ensuring that the state’s retirement and pension system won’t invest in any company that is involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which aims to isolate Israel until it accedes to a number of unilateral Palestinian demands. “Companies participating in this hateful effort to discriminate against the world’s only Jewish state would also be barred from winning state procurement contracts,” Block explained.
Arguing that Maryland “has a long history of standing up for what’s right” and steering its investments away from belligerent countries, like Sudan and Iran, Block wrote that a measure to ensure “no taxpayer money goes to support companies that discriminate, is entirely consistent with our proud [history].”
Block pointed out that the BDS campaign ignores the worst abusers of human rights in the world — like Iran, China, and North Korea — and instead singles out Israel for economic attacks, making peace even harder to achieve. He noted that the counterproductive nature of the campaign is even recognized by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said in 2013, “[W]e do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”
“Fundamentally,” Block concluded, “the effort to isolate and demonize the Jewish state is an effort to discriminate against people because of who they are. That’s not what we stand for, and, as Marylanders, we should strongly support our elected officials as they stand up against such discrimination.”
Delegate Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore, one of the House sponsors of HB 0949, cited on his blog the written testimony given in favor of the legislation by Amb. Dennis Ross, who served as a Middle East peace negotiator under both Democratic and Republican presidents. “Only two states for two peoples can fulfill the needs of both national movements,” Ross observed. “But BDS is promoting Palestinian national rights to the exclusion of Jewish national rights”
Other states currently considering anti-BDS legislation include Texas and Minnesota. Such bills have passed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Florida, Alabama, California, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Iowa. New York governor Andrew Cuomo approved a similar measure by executive order.
Advocates of these measures have emphasized that they do not raise any First Amendment issues, as private parties are still free to protest, boycott, or speak out against Israel in any way. However, states may be obligated to protect taxpayer money from being used to promote or support discrimination based on religion, race, or nationality.
The passage of anti-BDS legislation reflects an understanding that the campaign “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,” Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in The Washington Post in 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party, the Christian Democratic Union, echoed this criticism in December, passing a resolution stating that the party “declares with this motion its disapproval and rejection of every form of BDS activity and condemns these activities as anti-Semitic.”
Many BDS leaders have publicly opposed the two-state solution and affirmed that the movement seeks Israel’s destruction. Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the movement, said in 2014 that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.” Leading activist As’ad Abu Khalil wrote in 2012 that “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”
[Photo: MarylandGovPics / Flickr ]