NJ lawmakers weigh anti-BDS legislation

NJ lawmakers weigh anti-BDS legislation

Measure would bar state investments with anti-Israel boycotters

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Demonstrators gather in Paris urging a boycott of Israel, 2009.
Demonstrators gather in Paris urging a boycott of Israel, 2009.

New Jersey lawmakers are weighing a measure that would bar state pension funds from including companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

If adopted, it would make New Jersey the latest state to legislate against BDS.

The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. James Beach (D-Dist. 6), prohibits investment by New Jersey’s state pension and annuity funds in companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses.

A related resolution, introduced by State Sen. Peter Barnes (D-Dist. 18), condemns BDS.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37) introduced companions to both pieces of legislation into the Assembly.

Observers say both pieces are likely to pass; however, because of summer vacations and other schedules, they are not likely to come up for a vote until December or January.

“Considering what’s happening on campuses and in Europe regarding boycotting Israel, this is a step in the right direction,” Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, told NJJN.

New Jersey follows similar action by New York, Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The U.S. House and the Senate, meanwhile, included language opposing BDS in passing Trade Promotion Authority legislation June 24. The provisions included language discouraging efforts to limit trade with Israel. The full bill, which passed the House last week, now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.

Locally, an additional measure prohibiting the State of New Jersey from entering into contracts with companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses is on hold, according to Toporek, as the question of whether or not states can enact such legislation without the consent of Congress is resolved. Toporek said he is hopeful of its passage, given the precedents of an Iran sanctions bill that passed in 2012 and similar bills passed with regard to South Africa and apartheid and Sudan and Darfur.

The State Association worked with the key legislators to frame provisions for the two measures. It is also collaborating with community relations organizations to move the legislative initiatives.

The Jewish world is not unanimous in supporting such measures. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, warned in an op-ed this month that legislation that singles out BDS activity by corporations may not stand the test of First Amendment-protected free speech. He also warned that BDS campaigners would “undoubtedly portray themselves as victims of efforts to stifle their free expression.”

In a response to Foxman, Steven B. Nasatir, president of Chicago’s Jewish federation, defended anti-boycott legislation that does not subject companies boycotting Israel to civil or criminal damages. While such companies are free under new Illinois anti-BDS legislation to conduct business in the state, he wrote, the “State of Illinois simply won’t underwrite their operations.”

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