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Governor of Pennsylvania signs anti-BDS bill into law

Decision makes the state the 14th to pass legislation targeting procurement in entities boycotting Israel

Illustrative: A protester against anti-BDS legislation holds a sign in front of Governor Cuomo's NYC offices on June 9, 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative: A protester against anti-BDS legislation holds a sign in front of Governor Cuomo's NYC offices on June 9, 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)

Pennsylvania’s governor signed a bill Friday preventing the state from contracting with businesses or entities that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

The legislation, which has been passed in a number of other states in recent years as well, will “prohibit contracting with BDS businesses” and dictates that an “entity must certify that it will not engage in such boycotting during the duration of the contract,” according to an official statement released by the governor’s office.

The BDS movement supports economic and other pressure on the State of Israel for its perceived ill-treatment of the Palestinians.

Pennsylvania is the 14th state to pass anti-BDS legislation. The other states are California, New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Iowa. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order against doing business with Israel boycotters.

“We must make clear that we are in favor of a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict,” Governor Tom Wolf said, “and will not encourage economic punishment in place of peaceful solutions to challenging conflicts.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (CC BY: Governor Tom Wolf: Wikimedia)
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (CC BY: Governor Tom Wolf: Wikimedia)

Representative Matt Baker, the prime sponsor of the bill, said, “This legislation makes it very clear that companies can either perform a BDS action or they can do business with Pennsylvania. However, they cannot do both,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Voice for Peace, expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that it stifles the voices of those who oppose Israel’s policy.

Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Legal claimed that the bill hinders constitutional rights to free speech, in a letter to Pennsylvania Sen.Jake Corman, urging him to oppose the legislation.

“The bill’s stated purpose of targeting boycotts of Israel,” the letter read. “Its vagueness, its enormous financial penalty, and its potential for misuse, will chill and suppress speech protected by the United States Constitution.”

Rahul Saksena, a staff attorney from Palestine Legal, said boycotts were a legitimate tool of social protest and should not be stifled.

“The U.S. has a long history of non-violent boycotts as a tactic to advance civil and human rights, including the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s and the boycott of Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s,” Saksena said in a statement.

In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a similar bill which prevents companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign country, including Israel, from doing business with the state.

In June, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill prohibiting state agencies from investing in pension and annuity funds of companies that engage in political boycotts of the Jewish State. A similar bill was also signed in March by the Georgia General Assembly.

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