On March 20, the Wisconsin State legislature passed Assembly Bill 553—an anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel) bill that prohibits any state agency or other body in state government or local governmental units from adopting a rule, ordinance, policy, or procedure that involves the agency or governmental unit in a boycott of Israel or a person doing business in Israel or Israeli territory. In addition, the bill requires contracts between the state and nongovernmental entities to include a provision affirming that signatories are not, and will not engage in a prohibited boycott. In October of 2017, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed an anti-BDS executive order into law, which was of a very similar nature to the recently passed bill. Considering Governor Walker’s demonstrated commitment to combating the discriminatory BDS movement, his signature is likely forthcoming. Once signed, this bill will make Wisconsin the 25th state to enact anti-BDS legislation.
In recent years, the BDS campaign has emerged as one of the most misguided and virulent vessels for anti-Semitism. This intolerant movement, which seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel, should captivate the attention of both observers and policymakers alike. Fortunately, the passage of Wisconsin’s anti-BDS bill suggests some policymakers understand the threat of the BDS Movement. Speaking in support of the bill, Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir pronounced, “Boycotts of Israel must be fought because they do not just attack the Jewish state. This propaganda campaign is also the basis for newly emboldened and destructive anti-Semitic attitudes.”
One of the most vocal opponents of these anti-BDS bills has been the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who has filed two lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the legislation. The first lawsuit, which was filed in late 2017, challenged the First Amendment implications of a Kansas anti-BDS statute. More recently, the ACLU filed a nearly identical lawsuit challenging the legality of Arizona’s anti-BDS statute. The ACLU claims that these laws conflict with the First amendment’s right to free speech by, among other things, restricting political expression.
However, this claim is misguided. In the wake of the ACLU’s lawsuit, the Brandeis Center filed an amicus brief in support of Arizona’s anti-BDS law. In this brief, the Brandeis Center highlights the difference between discriminatory speech and discriminatory conduct, arguing that the Arizona bill only prohibits the latter and is therefore not infringing on First Amendment protections. Commenting on the brief, LDB’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Policy Alyza D. Lewin noted, “Laws discouraging the discriminatory conduct espoused by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign combat anti-Semitism in the United States and protect free commerce with America’s ally. They do not suppress or interfere with constitutionally protected speech.”
Striking yet another significant blow to the BDS movement, Wisconsin’s recently passed anti-BDS bill represents a momentous achievement in the battle against resurgent anti-Semitism. While the battle against the BDS campaign will wage on, achievements like this give hope for a future in which this anti-Semitic movement is eradicated.