State legislatures across the U.S. are introducing resolutions and bills to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Now, Ohio is following suit.
House Bill 476 was introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives Feb. 24. If passed, the bill would prohibit a state agency from contracting with a company that’s boycotting or disinvesting from Israel.
According to the text of the bill: “A state agent may not enter into or renew a contract with a company for the acquisition or provision of supplies, equipment or services, or for construction services, unless the contract declares that the company is not boycotting Israel or disinvesting from Israel, and includes a term obligating the company, for the duration of the contract, not to boycott Israel or disinvest from Israel.”
Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, is the primary sponsor of the bill. There are 13 co-sponsors, including Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.
“This is an important bill to show support for our strongest ally in the Middle East,” said Brad Miller, a spokesman for Rosenberger. “Israel is a state that shares our American belief in democracy. This legislation helps demonstrate that support through not doing business with anyone who might try to break the strong bonds that we have.”
Schuring, who represents District 48, which includes portions of Stark County, did not respond to requests for comment.
“It’s great that Ohio is taking a lead on this,” said Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities. “We’ve been working with Mr. Schuring and the House speaker and the minority leader on this for some time.”
Beigelman said at least nine of the sponsors of the bill, including Schuring, went on a mission trip to Israel with the Negev Foundation, a Cleveland-based nonprofit that promotes the agricultural development and economic sustainability of the Negev Desert, last August. He believes the trip played a role in Schuring wanting to take action.
“The people on the trip got a chance to look at the Ohio-Israel connections and how much business and research and cooperation and partnership and the like are going on between Ohio and Israel, and how much potential there is and how devastating, both from a moral standpoint but also a business standpoint, a BDS movement would be, not only for Israel but for Ohio,” Beigelman said.
According to the nonprofit organization Americans for Peace Now, 22 states as of Feb. 25, 2016 have introduced and/or passed anti-BDS resolutions or legislation. Many of the bills have been passed by a state legislature but are waiting to be signed into law by the governor of each respective state.
South Carolina was the first state to sign an anti-BDS measure into law.
The bill, which was signed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on June 4, 2015, doesn’t mention Israel specifically, but states “A public entity may 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 engage in, the boycott of a person or an entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom South Carolina can enjoy open trade, as defined in this article.”
According to the bill, the term “boycott” means to “blacklist, divest from or otherwise refuse to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin of the targeted person or entity.”
The Illinois government was the next to take a stand. The bill, which was signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on July 23, 2015, amended the Illinois Pension Code and prohibits a state agency from entering into a contract with a business that boycotts Israel.
The bill also established an Illinois Investment Policy Board composed of seven members. By April 1, 2016, the board is expected to have identified “all Iran-restricted companies, Sudan-restricted companies and companies that boycott Israel and assemble those into a list of restricted companies to be distributed to each retirement system.”
The board will review the list of restricted companies on a quarterly basis. The five state-funded retirement systems and the Illinois Board of Investment are prohibited from acquiring securities of those restricted companies.
Although not a bill, a joint resolution Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed on April 24, 2015 “condemns the BDS movement and increasing incidents of anti-Semitism.”
Miller said he expects the bill to be discussed in committee meetings in early April when the Ohio House is back in session.
For now, Beigelman is glad the legislation has been introduced.
“It sends a very powerful message to everyone that the state of Ohio will not stand with bigots and that the state of Ohio will not let those they do business with discriminate,” he said.