Last week, Rhode Island lawmakers passed legislation aimed at curbing BDS movements within the state. Bill H 7736, also known as Anti-Discrimination in State Contracts Act, came about after its sponsor, Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-45, Cumberland, Lincoln) started to become aware of growing support for the BDS movement.
Rep. Ackerman believes this bill will proactively counter BDS, saying, “we want to get out in front of [BDS], as opposed to react to. Support for BDS is becoming a national trend, with a lot of that support stemming from universities. As a small state, we need to take a stand,” according to Algemeiner.com.
H 7736 specifically prohibits public entities of the state of Rhode Island from engaging in business with any company that does not expressly state they will not boycott any country’s goods and services.
A public entity shall not enter into a contract with a business to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, information technology, or construction unless the contract includes a representation that the business is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the business will not during the duration of the contract engage in the boycott of any person, firm or entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade, and/or the boycott of any public agencies, entities or instrumentalities of the jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade
Essentially, this terminates business relations between the State of Rhode Island and companies who have BDS policies. Trade between Rhode Island and Israel is significant, amounting to upwards of 10 million dollars to the State, indicating a strong economic relationship.
With this legislation, this dually advantageous economic relationship is further protected.
While the bill passed Rhode Island’s House of Representatives by a 63-4 vote and the Senate unanimously, it experienced significant opposition from Brown University students. As Rep. Ackerman told Algemeiner.com,
“We met a lot of resistance from students at Brown University, who said the bill was a violation of their First Amendment rights. They did not understand that it had nothing to do with free speech and private conduct, but rather focused on regulating commercial activity”
Brown has faced a rash of BDS activity, particularly from the Jewish Voices of Peace, an anti-Zionist student group, which Rep. Ackerman named as one of the main opponents of the bill. According to the AMCHA Initiative, 18 professors employed by the University are pro-BDS.
This bill continues on a string of positive moves made by other states in countering the BDS movement, including Governor Cuomo’s anti-BDS executive order in New York state. Gov. Cuomo’s executive order unilaterally ordered the government of NY to end business with pro-BDS companies, much like Rhode Island’s legislature. H7736’s passage is a welcome sign of the rising tide against BDS in state governments, and points to further success for the anti-BDS movement.