WASHINGTON — In the wake of the UN anti-settlements resolution, the governor of Illinois warned the European Union that companies complying with boycotts of Israel or of its West Bank settlements face divestment by the governments of Illinois and other states.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his January 31 letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, outlines Illinois law banning state pension plans from investing in companies that boycott Israel.
“Under our law, the term ‘boycott Israel’ means ‘engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the state of Israel or companies based in Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel,’” Rauner wrote in the letter, which his office released to JTA on February 3.
“Therefore, any attempt by the European Union to direct or encourage companies (including financial institutions) within its jurisdiction, to participate in such activity, including the adoption of sanctions pursuant to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, may put EU firms at risk of violating Illinois law,” said the letter.
The UN Security Council resolution which passed in December, calls upon member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967,” which some have interpreted as a green light to boycott settlement goods.
Rauner in the letter noted that Illinois had identified some companies that participate in Israel boycotts according to how it is defined in Illinois law. At least two of those companies appear to have been listed purely for boycotting settlement goods.
He also notes that since Illinois was the first to pass a law banning its pensions systems from dealing with companies that boycott Israel, in July 2015, a number of other of states have done so as well.
“I urge the council to think carefully before pursuing any further action regarding UNSC 2334 as such action may force states like Illinois to divest from EU-based firms,” Rauner said.
The European Council is the body that defines the European Union’s political direction.
So far, at least 10 states have passed anti-boycott laws, and most of them extend the bans to boycotting settlement goods.
Within the pro-Israel community, centrist and right-wing groups back a broad application of activism targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, while liberal pro-Israel groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now, oppose BDS targeting Israel within the green line, but differentiate it from boycotting settlement goods.
Civil liberties groups also oppose the laws, saying that banning boycotts inhibits free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has written to at least eight state legislatures opposing anti-BDS laws.