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Maryland and Texas BDS Legislation


Edward Kunz, Brandeis Blog

March 10, 2017
 

Earlier this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called in his budget for laws which will stop state support for businesses that endorse or adhere to boycotts of Israel. Seventeen states have currently enacted anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) legislation, with states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio having done so in just the last few months. The Texas law address state pension plans. In a news brief released by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Abbott is quoted as stating that “[w]hile Texas pension plans have the goal of maximizing returns…this mission should not come at the expense of our principles.” Abbott elaborated further, saying that “Texas funds…should be prohibited from making investments that directly fund our nation’s enemies or those…with stated anti-Israel policies.” Texas, like many other states, currently bans state pensions and retirement funds from investing in Iran. Abbott met with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, last year. During his time with the ambassador, as reported by The Algemeiner, Abbott stated that both Iran and the BDS movement against Israel “actively engage” in attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Texas is no stranger to BDS and BDS-aligned groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Governor Abbott’s calls for Texas anti-BDS legislation mirror the attempts by Maryland legislators. Maryland lawmakers and Jewish advocacy groups are currently putting the final touches on a bill that would ban companies that support the BDS movement from doing business with the state. This new bill comes after a failed attempt to introduce similar legislation last April. The previous attempt never saw the proposed bill introduced, which opponents of the bill credit to “intense opposition from public and state legislators.”  The text for the proposed bill uses language similar to that of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) anti-BDS bill, which defined BDS as “actions…intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations” with Israel. Cardin’s anti-BDS bill, H.R. 6298, was not enacted.

Both the Texas and Maryland attempts at anti-BDS legislation will face stiff resistance from the active members of BDS groups within both states. Critics of the Texas legislation claim it “infringes upon the First Amendment right to free speech,” specifically in regards to state issued funds. Defenders of anti-BDS legislation, such as Eugene Volokh, have responded that such anti-BDS bills do not restrict speech. Volokh explains that “a [business] doesn’t lose [federal/state] money just for condemning Israel or even praising a boycott, but only for actually boycotting Israel: refusing to deal with Israeli institutions or scholars.” Maryland’s legislation may face more intense opposition, since Mayland BDS groups believe that they helped to stop similar legislation from being passed last year, a belief that will no doubt embolden their resistance. Regardless of the challenges, legislators in both states are pressing on in their pursuit of legislation against the undue pressures targeting Israel and Israel’s supporters.

BDS is rapidly losing ground to the onslaught of legislation it faces at both the state and federal level. The BDS campaign’s attempts to stifle academic freedom and to demonize Israel are facing stiff opposition from an informed public, a public that became informed due to the now publicly litigated nature of the anti-Israel movement. Every attempt at a boycott motion, and the subsequent reaction from the states, leads to discrediting of the BDS movement. With more and more states now drafting anti-BDS legislation and several bills introduced through congress as well, it is only a matter of time before the BDS movement loses what little credibility it has left.

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Tammi Rossman Benjamin
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that investigates, documents and combats anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America, and was a faculty member in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of California from 1996 - 2016.
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