This past Saturday, Kansas State Senate passed a bill that will prevent the state from contracting businesses that engage in discrimination either against Israel or entities doing business in Israel. Kansas’ House previously passed the bill in a 116-9 vote in April and the State Senate approved it in a vote of 28-9. Due to the changes made, the will now head back to the House to receive a final vote. If this bill is passed and signed into law, Kansas would be the 21st state to pass anti-BDS legislation, accompanying states such as Michigan and Texas.
Kansas is joining the fight against the BDS movement – a movement that seeks to boycott Israeli businesses and entities linked to Israel. Israel is of high importance to Kansas, specifically its economy, given that the state exported $56.7 million in commodities to Israel and imported $83.7 million from Israel, according to Kansas’ Department of Commerce.
The bill would essentially require businesses and individuals that have contracts with the state to affirm that they are not boycotting Israel. This requirement, however, was loosened in an amendment made in the Senate. Sen. Tom Hawk offered an amendment, during debate on Friday, that would allow the Secretary of Administration more latitude in waiving the “no-boycott” requirement if he/she determines “compliance is not practicable or in the best interest of the state.” Sen. Steve Fitzgerald challenged this amendment, saying that if the requirement is waived because it causes inconvenience then “anti-Semitism is tolerable.”
Some outsiders, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, opposed the bill for its “attempts to punish free speech” as they wrote in a letter to lawmakers. However, lawmakers and U.S. precedence will tell you that this discussion, is not about free speech. Sen. Fitzgerald responded to these claims by asking rhetorically whether lawmakers would support the state doing business with firms that were openly racist, “Why not?” he exclaimed, “Free speech?” pointing out how this legislation is consistent with other anti-discrimination laws.
The U.S. government has historically rejected boycotts based on national origin, like the BDS movement. Additionally, Federal courts have ruled that economic boycotts are not protected free speech.