New Illinois law does not make BDS illegal

Israel-aligned organizations are attempting to crush boycott organizing in the US. (Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr)

On Thursday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law a measure that will seek to punish international companies that boycott Israel.

The law, SB 1761, was approved by the state legislature earlier this year.

In a press release, attorneys with Palestine Legal say that the new law “will set up a blacklist of companies that boycott Israel and require the state’s pension funds to divest from those companies. The law specifies that its intent is to only punish companies that are not based in the United States.”

The 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 will punish international companies that boycott goods from Israeli settlements in occupied territories, including the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights, that are considered illegal under international law and even by longstanding US policy.

Last month, US President Barack Obama signed into law an anti-BDS provision to much fanfare from anti-Palestinian organizations. As Josh Ruebner, policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, noted, the Obama administration signaled that it would not try to enforce a provision in the federal trade legislation that would make it a US objective to fight boycotts even of settlement businesses.

Boycott is a constitutional right

Though it says the Illinois law is “troubling,” Palestine Legal points out that it does not make Israel boycott activism, advocacy or engagement illegal.

Rahul Saksena, staff attorney with Palestine Legal, told The Electronic Intifada today that “boycotting Israel is a constitutionally protected right that cannot be taken away by state law.”

“While we should oppose any government action against BDS [the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement], we want to emphasize that the new Illinois law does not prohibit anyone, including students, from boycotting Israel or advocating for BDS,” Saksena said.

The US Campaign’s Ruebner had also noted regarding the federal law that “nothing in any congressional anti-BDS initiative does or could restrict our First Amendment-protected right to engage in BDS speech and advocacy.”

Organizing effort

Palestine Legal says that while they are concerned with the law, “it could have been much worse. An earlier iteration of SB 1761 was far more dangerous.”

The group says that the earlier version of the law “was watered down after a successful advocacy campaign by Palestine solidarity activists in Illinois, along with civil rights and civil liberties organizations. Without that organizing effort, we would have a far more troubling law.”

Republican Illinois congressman Peter Roskam, who has claimed that BDS is “blatant discrimination against the Jewish state,” heralded the law as a “great day for the State of Illinois and the ongoing battle against the insidious BDS campaign,” the The Times of Israel reported.

The Times of Israel added that “supporters [of the law] say that it now serves as a model for similar measures in some 20 other states.”

But as the US Campaign’s Ruebner has noted, Roskam’s own efforts to push more aggressive federal anti-BDS legislation have met with obstacles in Congress.

Palestine Legal is, meanwhile, “exploring possible legal challenges” to the newly-signed Illinois law.

“We continue to be concerned with the government’s use of financial levers to punish or dissuade certain speech, particularly speech in support of human rights, simply because the government disagrees with that speech,” the group says.

“Our local, state, and federal governments should be protecting and advancing human rights, not sanctioning companies taking a principled stance on a social justice issue.”




This law is totally constitutional precisely because it does not prevent boycott advocacy! There are no legal challenges that will stand up in court.

As Eugene Kontorovich wrote in Tablet Magazine:

"The new laws only relate to state contracting and public pension funds’ investments. They simply limit a state’s business relationships with companies that discriminatorily limit their own business relations. These laws do not prohibit or penalize any kind of speech. Proponents of boycotting Israel are free to call for such boycotts, encourage others to join them, and participate in them. As the BDS movement itself admits, these laws will not prohibit their activities."


It is simultaneously a sign of the strength of Zionism in the US and its weakness, that these proposals and laws are appearing. Yes, Israel and its supporters have the influence to pass such legislation, but the fact that they need to do so is an admission of the change which has occurred in the past ten years. As more American citizens, companies and investment groups decide to withdraw support from the Zionist project, we'll undoubtedly see a greater measure of desperation. Observance of the boycott is increasing daily. What's the government going to do- force people to buy Israeli goods and services? How?

You simply cannot stop a boycott through police repression and laws of this type.


Never heard it before, but it seems what the Illinois legislature has done is to boycott those companies (internationally) that agree with the BDS, at least to the point of not doing business with Israel and/or Israeli settlements. Amazing that they would not dare to touch US companies and realize that cannot unilaterally close down BDS in Illinois.


During World War Two the goal of the many resistance movements were
to rid the world of the Third Reich. Totally. The various movements
functioned in different ways (there was not one single "resistance movement".)
My Mother and Stepmother functioned in and for the "Neiubeginnen",
the resistance in exile in Paris during the thirties.

Although the immediate objectives may have been limited (carrying
in messages to Germany, forging passports etc.), I am sure they
ultimately would have considered their goal to be the elimination of
Hitler due to its brutal, oppressive,
behavior, behavior consistent with behaviors of settler colonists
over hundreds of years. (Note: It has been identified with only Zionism
but has similarities with Christian movements such as
the colonization of North American by the Puritans,The Crusades,
and many more.)

Due to Israel's constant defiance of international laws I fully support
an embargo of Israel itself. I also am of the opinion that this is
impossible at this time.

Boycotts are not unconstitutional. The US Jewish elite
has used boycotts of foreign banks and nations as Norman
Finkelstein has documented in THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY.
He called it extortion...but not unconstitutional.

In my opinion, there should never..NEVER... be a place anywhere
in this world for settler colonialism and its massacres, rapes,
murders, wars, home destruction etc. The fact that such
conquests are not only tolerated but encouraged by the US
should escape no one.

Those of us in BDS can make contributions and BDS should be
congratulated on its 10 years of effort.

Major progress will inevitably be through outside factors.
The so-called Iran "deal" in concert with all the "permanent
members" of the UN Security Council plus one(Germany)
proved again that the US power to manipulate was reduced
as one of many with no "veto".

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Hope all success to the righteous supporting the right of historical Palestine original and current residents to stand against terrorist state currently managed from Tel Aviv city.


I know boycotts work through groups of people, but in my Zionist city, the Universities, find a way to silence our voices. So, when I'm in a grocery store that sells Israeli products, or cruise by a Ahava distributor, I just start talking to people who are about to buy those products. I show them pictures, that were sent to me last summer of slaughtered humans. I have an area of my phone, with brief and supported facts abo0ut The Occupation, then ask them, literally looking them in the eye - "Do you as a human support this?" Most of the time it works. Once in awhile I get the usual Philly response, but I just smile, shake my head and say shame on you, and walk away.

Well done - 10 years of BDS. Thanks for this article and publication.

Jane Zacher
Philadelphia, Pa. 19141

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).