House passes measure to thwart boycotts of Israel

House passes measure to thwart boycotts of Israel

Claiming boycotts are anti-Semitic, the state House voted Monday to deny public contracts to firms that refuse to do business with other companies that do business in Israel.

Athena Salman
Athena Salman

The 37-21 vote came over the often-tearful statements of Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who told her colleagues of how her family members, some now here, some still living in occupied territories, have been treated. She said the movement, formally known as BDS – for boycott, divest, sanction – is designed to put pressure on Israel to end what she said are “Israeli human rights abuses” and illegal settlements in the West Bank.

“People have a right to boycott,” said House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. And he said he did not doubt that there have been “immoral acts” on both sides of the conflict.

But he said these were decisions taken in the heat of battle and in the heat of self-preservation. And Bowers said that the state has a legitimate interest in using its economic power – the power to deny public contracts – to keep people from boycotting Israel and, to his way of looking at it, the right of that country to exist.

SB 1167 still needs final Senate approval of some minor House-made changes before going to Gov. Doug Ducey, who actually signed a virtually identical bill in 2016.

Last year, however, U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa enjoined the state from enforcing the law. She said the state cannot use its economy power to deny people their right to speak out and act on their personal beliefs.

A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments in June.

This new version is virtually identical to the law Humetewa found flawed – but with one key difference: It applies only to companies with 10 or more employees with public contracts worth at least $100,000. That would mean that Flagstaff attorney Mik Jordahl, who filed the original lawsuit with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, no longer has a case because his firm and his contract with the Coconino County Jail are too small.

It would then be up to someone else to start the legal challenge over from scratch.

Salman spoke of how her father, as a child in the occupied territories, was detained and how such practices continue today. And she said that the ever-expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank are cutting off access to family-owned land

“If that land is annexed it is no longer our land,” Salman said.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he could not support putting pressure on Israel, saying the BDS movement is fueled by “its anger at Israel and its anger at the Jewish people.”

“Arizona will not be anti-Semitic,” said Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. “We’re not going to discriminate against Israel.”

And Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he sees the BDS movement as an impediment to peace, seeking to force terms on Israel rather than requiring both sides to recognize each other’s right to exist.

The House action comes as Israelis go to the polls to decide whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets another term in office. Netanyahu, facing a difficult campaign, has teased that he might annex the occupied territories – the ones at issue in the whole BDS movement – and make them permanently part of Israel, killing any chance of a two-state solution and a Palestinian homeland.