TEL AVIV – A new bill introduced in Congress Wednesday supports the rights of U.S. states to cut ties with companies that are engaged in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Lawmakers from both houses of Congress presented the Combating BDS Act of 2016, which is aimed at combating economic warfare against Israel, Tablet magazine, which obtained a preliminary copy of the bill, reported.
The bipartisan bills—sponsored by Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the Senate, and Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Bob Dold (R-IL) in the House—comes on the heels of a wave of laws passed by governors and state legislatures disassociating themselves from the BDS movement.
In July of last year, Illinois passed a law prohibiting state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel. A month earlier, South Carolina passed a bill prohibiting public entities from doing business with companies or individuals that boycott Israel.
Two weeks ago, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution banning the state from any dealings with entities that support BDS.
According to Tablet, similar bills are being considered in Ohio, California, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. By next summer, the number of states pursuing laws that combat boycotts of Israel is expected to reach into the double digits.
Tablet noted that with the BDS movement gaining serious traction on American college campuses and elsewhere, the newly proposed bill is critical because it empowers states to follow the conscience of their citizens, most of whom overwhelmingly support Israel, according to a recent Gallup poll.
“Drawing on a 2010 federal law targeting companies engaged in business with Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime, this bipartisan bill would authorize state and local governments in the United States to follow Illinois’s lead and divest from companies engaged in boycotts and other forms of economic warfare against Israel,” Senator Kirk told Tablet. “With this bill, Congress underscores the critical role that state and local governments and their communities have to play in the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism worldwide.”
In an interview with the Free Beacon, Kirk indicated that the bill was also a way of reassuring Israel that the U.S. is still by its side, despite recent measures by the Obama administration – not least of all the nuclear Iran deal – that seem to suggest otherwise.
“After the big Iran fight, it was the right time to set a pro-Israel marker down there with members [of Congress] against the BDS movement,” Kirk said.
He also expressed concerns that growing anti-Semitism in Europe could reach the United States if the BDS movement were left unchecked.
“We see the Muslim community and the Arab community having a political impact in the key allies—Germany, the UK—where something like BDS could catch fire and become official policy,” Kirk told the Free Beacon. “There needs to be some pushback from the best friend of Israel.”
Meanwhile, Dold told the Tablet the new bill “empowers community leaders and individuals who seek to counter the hateful targeting of Israel, while sending an unquestionable message about our steadfast opposition to BDS and strong support for those who stand up for Israel.”
“Congress isn’t messing around,” said Omri Ceren, managing director at the Israel Project, a non-partisan D.C.-based organization that has been active in the fight against BDS. “Polls show that their constituents want lawmakers at every level of government to stand with Israel, and senators and representatives are going to do everything in their power to make sure that happens.”