Missouri lawmakers pass bill against boycotting Israel

Missouri lawmakers pass bill against boycotting Israel

Legislation, set to be signed by governor, would require companies to pledge not to boycott Jewish state in order to do business with Missouri

Illustrative: BDS supporters in New York, October 2015. (BDS Facebook page via JTA)
Illustrative: BDS supporters in New York, October 2015. (BDS Facebook page via JTA)

COLUMBIA, Missouri (AP) — Missouri lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to ban the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

The GOP-led House approved the measure 95-40 the day before their Friday deadline to pass bills this year.

Lawmakers are rushing to pass as many bills as possible after taking several weeks off over concerns about spreading the coronavirus. They returned to the Capitol days before Governor Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order expired May 3.

Many are not wearing masks, but some are.

The boycott bill is in response to a Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targets Israeli institutions and businesses in what it says is a nonviolent campaign against Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Israel says the campaign masks a deeper goal of delegitimizing and even destroying the country.

The Missouri bill would require companies to sign a contract pledging not to boycott Israel in order to do business with Missouri. It wouldn’t apply to contracts worth less than $100,000 or companies with fewer than 10 employees.

At least 27 other states have passed similar policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republican Representative Holly Rehder led the Senate bill through the House. She said doing anything to support the boycott movement goes against Missouri’s economic policies and would be “absurd.”

“The legislature has taken bold action to combat the insidious and hateful BDS movement that singles out Israel and encourages punitive actions against its economy and citizens, said Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Committee St. Louis Region.

But the bill drew bipartisan opposition from lawmakers who said it tramples on Americans’ right to free speech through protests.

Republican Representative Tony Lovasco said awarding business contracts based on political opinions would be “incredibly dangerous.” He said criticizing a government is not the same as criticizing the people who live in that country.

“I am incredibly critical of our government, for example,” Lovasco said. “I’m not anti-American. I love this country. I don’t want to be in a position where my criticism of our government’s choices and how our government spends, or in my mind wastes our money, is going to result in my being placed in effectively a blacklist.”

The measure now heads to Republican Governor Parson.

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