Illinois lawmakers are expected to vote Friday on two bills that civil rights defenders say will severely curtail the constitutionally protected right to engage in boycotts.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Illinois House Bill 4011 and Senate Bill 1761 contain a provision that requires state pension funds to “create blacklists of companies that boycott Israel because of its human rights violations, and mandates that they withdraw their investments from these companies.”
The measure passed on the House floor and in the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday.
CCR says that these bills “must be opposed in order to protect the right to engage in boycotts that reflect collective action to address a human rights issue, which the US Supreme Court has declared is protected speech and associational activity.”
The draft law defines a “boycott” of “Israel” as “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 the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
This means that the law would even discourage initiatives to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in occupied territories including the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights that are considered illegal under international law even by longstanding US policy.
In an action alert aimed at Illinois residents, CCR says that “it was through strong collective action to address human rights issues, through boycotts and otherwise, that the civil rights and anti-apartheid struggles were successful in effecting change.”
“Don’t make it state policy to condemn this form of protected speech and association,” CCR urges.
The bill is sponsored by State Senator Ira Silverstein, a Democrat from Chicago. Last year, Silverstein sponsored unsuccessful legislation condemning the academic boycott of Israel.
Silverstein has long been a hardline opponent of Palestinian rights and in 2011 publicly opposed President Barack Obama’s endorsement of a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 borders.”
Growing efforts to outlaw BDS
The Illinois bills are the latest among a slew of measures intended to legislate against the increasingly visible boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
According to the action alert, Cardin’s bill would make it a “principal trade negotiating objective of the United States” to “discourage politically motivated actions” that “limit commercial relations” with Israel and Israeli businesses, including those operating in occupied territories.
In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, US Campaign executive director Yousef Munayyer writes that the amendment “is aimed at silencing and mitigating actions taken by some European states alongside the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.”
The Obama administration is currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU, which would create a major free trade area.
Munayyer also points out the hypocrisy of Cardin’s stance given that “it was only a few months ago that Senator Cardin himself praised boycotting as a tactic in nonviolent struggle” in the US civil rights struggle.
In January 2014, Israel’s then economy minister Yair Lapid warned that if the boycott movement was left unchecked it would hit every Israeli “in the pocket.”
Update, 25 April
The measure was passed by the Illinois Senate on 22 April by a vote of 49-0. It did not come to a vote in the House on 24 April, the last day it could pass in the current session, but was referred to the Rules Committee – a procedural step that can allow bills that run out of time to be brought back in the following session.