Rep. Alan Clemmons delivers an address from the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse in a speech given via satellite to the Restoring Courage rally in Jerusalem in 2011.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ohio became the 15th US state to pass legislation banning business with companies that boycott, divest from or sanction Israel last week, joining an effort that began in May and June 2015 with Illinois and South Carolina.
Illinois might not have surprised anyone with its nearly 300,000-strong Jewish constituency in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. But South Carolina, which has only some 20,000 Jews, raised eyebrows.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons, who initiated the bill, came to the Knesset on Wednesday, guiding a group of legislators from Texas who want to pass a similar bill in their state.
“South Carolina is the most pro-Israel state in the US,” Clemmons said in an interview in the Knesset. “We don’t have a huge Jewish population but we do have plenty of Israel loving Christians. If the South is the Bible Belt, South Carolina is the buckle of the Bible Belt. Then again, the Texans would wrestle me for saying that.”
Clemmons said a 2011 speech by US President Barack Obama in which he called for two states for two peoples with Jerusalem as the capital of both inspired him to work against dividing Jerusalem and pressuring Israel to give up its heartland.
“It bothered me so much that I drafted resolution that Israel is the occupier of no one’s land,” he recalled. “All the Republicans in our State House signed on as co-sponsors. To my surprise, the Democrats signed on, and it passed unanimously, proving that support for Israel in South Carolina is not a political issue but part of American patriotism.”
Clemmons received letters thanking him from MKs, which led to him coming to Israel for three weeks and learning more about the Jewish state. Since then, he has helped the Israel Allies Foundation pass several pro-Israel resolutions.
“Christians in the US and Americans in general have a great deal of respect for Israel,” he said. “We believe God has given us a duty to support Israel, so it was not a huge leap for South Carolina to stand up for Israel when it is being terrorized economically by the discriminatory, antisemitic practices engaged in by the BDS movement.”
South Carolina law bars state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott others “based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” It was signed into law by the state’s governor, Nikki Haley, who was tapped by Donald Trump to become the next ambassador to the UN.
Clemmons said he has reassured Israelis that when it comes to the Jewish state, Haley’s heart is in the right place.
“Nikki Haley is a strong leader,” he said. “She is very conservative in her views. When we worked on the effort, Gov. Haley partnered with our legislatures to sign the anti-BDS bill into law without delay.”