Activists from the BDS movement against Israel [File].
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Kansas state senate in Topeka on Friday passed by a vote of 28-9 an anti-BDS bill that outlaws the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.
The Wichita Eagle newspaper reported that the bill will be sent to the House chamber for a full vote.
The anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions legislation defines boycott as: “engaging in a refusal to deal, terminating business activities or performing other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with persons or entities doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel, if those actions are taken either.”
The broad language of the bill would penalize companies that seek to punish Israel because of the territorial dispute with the Palestinians. The bill passed the House in April by a vote of 116-9 in April but was amended by the senate.
The change to the original house bill addressed an amendment allowing the Kansas secretary of administration to bypass compliance with the anti-BDS law if “that compliance is not practicable or in the best interest of the state.” Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan, Kansas, Democrat, advocated the amendment change. Senators voted to include the revision by 25-13.
According to The Wichita Eagle, Hawk said that the anti-BDS bill could impact academic freedom, citing as an example, “a Middle Eastern studies class that wants to subscribe to a Palestinian journal that may have signed on to a boycott.”
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, told the paper that the debate is not about the right to free speech but the objectives of public policy in the state of Kansas to fight discrimination based on national origin. “He [Fitzgerald] asked rhetorically whether lawmakers would support the state doing business with firms that were openly racist.”
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Fitzgerald rejected the latitude provided to the secretary of administration to “waive the no-boycott requirement,” according to the paper. He added the waiver means “antisemitism is tolerable, it’s OK, we’ll go along with it.”
Fitzgerald said, “It is embarrassing to say we object to antisemitism except when it’s inconvenient for the educational establishment.”
Human rights groups have labeled the BDS movement as antisemitic. The French government classifies BDS activity as criminal and various German political parties, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party, have said that BDS is a modernized version of the Nazi movement’s boycott campaign against Jewish businesses during the 1930’s.
According to the news article, “In 2016, Kansas exported $56.7 million in commodities to Israel and imported $83.7 million from Israel.”
The Kansas state legislative website wrote, “The director of marketing and research at the Kansas Department of Commerce provided proponent testimony, highlighting the economic impact of Israel as a trading partner and ally with Kansas and the United States, as well as examples of Israeli companies that are based in Kansas.”
The state website noted, “Opponent testimony was provided by a representative of Citizens for Justice in the Middle East. The opponent questioned the legality and constitutionality of the bill in denying companies the right to boycott or divest Israeli investments. The opponent further defended the BDS movement as a way to object to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and argued the bill was an avenue to suppress dissent.”
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