Illinois legislators have initiated what could be a dangerous new trend in anti-boycott legislation. The proposed law, tucked away discreetly in an amendment to Senate Bill 1761, stipulates that the Illinois state pension system must withdraw money from any company that boycotts Israel or supports a boycott. Perhaps even worse, the bill specifies that boycotting the State of Israel includes “companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
The bill works something like this: Let’s say that Hewlett-Packard has caved to the BDS movement’s call to cease the transfer of products or services to the West Bank. The vast network of funds within the Illinois pension system would then be withdrawn from HP and reinvested elsewhere. I struggle to think of another political issue that would be handled this way.
If the U.S. recognizes the illegality, or at least the dubious nature of the settlements, how can one not be given the right to boycott them?
Setting aside the threat to free speech, this bill is troubling, first, because it erases the internationally recognized Green Line by asserting that there is no difference between boycotting Israel and the settlements. While many Israeli leaders have echoed this sentiment, the international community, including the United States, has repeatedly found settlements to be illegal, as well as counterproductive to the peace process. If the U.S. recognizes the illegality, or at least the dubious nature of the settlements, how can one not be given the right to boycott them? Moreover, how can a state bill that challenges official U.S. foreign policy be allowed to subsist?
If states start taking on the BDS movement individually, it may become increasingly difficult to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in a practical way. While it is difficult to predict the effect of legislation like this, the precedent that it sets is legitimately frightening. If this bill is drafted in other states, companies will soon find themselves trapped between the international calls for boycott of and divestment from settlements, and domestic legislation that inhibits their ability to trade freely.