By Ferne Hassan
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf scored a double win for his state by signing into law a bill (HB- 2107), which combats the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on November 4, 2016. Its most significant impact will be on prohibiting any company that seeks to do business with Pennsylvania from engaging in economic warfare with Israel, or any other trading partner with favored nation status. It also defends Pennsylvania’s economic interests against attempts to weaken its ability to conduct trade with Israel.
This bipartisan bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Matthew Baker (R) with 26 co-sponsors from both parties, passed by a vote of 181-9.
“Taking a stand against the BDS movement seems especially appropriate for Pennsylvania, a state which proudly takes the lead against discrimination,” states Joseph Puder, Director, StandWithUs Philadlephia. “I am proud of Pennsylvania’s legislators and governor for opposing the economic warfare which is being waged against Israel and for once again upholding fairness and sound public policy.”
The goal of BDS is the demonization and isolation of Israel. BDS proponents often present their case in terms of justice; however, this masks the real agenda of seeking to destroy Israel rather than improve the lives of Palestinians. The movement falls clearly under the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as it demonizes, delegitimizes and holds Israel to a double standard, the only Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East. This law asserts that Pennsylvania will not be a partner to discrimination and anti-Semitism.
The law also protects Pennsylvania’s economic interests. PA enjoys over $200 million in annual economic trade with Israeli entities, in addition to business done with many other partners who have commercial interests in Israel. This trade encompasses many of the state’s most important economic sectors, such as defense, technology research and development, and health sciences. Passage of HB-2107 sends a clear message to the Israeli business community that it is welcome here.
The bill does not violate any First Amendment rights. It exercises the state’s own right to choose the companies with which it will contract. It does not penalize or infringe on anyone’s private speech or conduct. Companies are free to make whatever statements they wish, even stupid or hostile things about Israel; individuals are not impacted at all. The bill simply clarifies that if an entity chooses to engage in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), then the state can exercise its right to not support that entity. Exercising such discretion with taxpayer funds is an important part of reinforcing economic interests, public policy and the basic ethical standards of government.
The U.S. government has also emphatically rejected boycotts based on national origin and interference with foreign trade policy in general. Congress has legislated against boycotts of Israel for four decades, and federal courts have ruled that economic boycotts are not protected free speech.
Pennsylvania joins twelve states that have passed such legislation and are fighting back against bigotry.