Texas moving closer to passing anti-BDS bill

Legislation receives support from local Jewish and Christian communities.

By KATHERINE KEENAN
February 12, 2017 03:13
3 minute read.
PEOPLE GATHER at the Texas State Capitol on Thursday to lobby on behalf of an anti-BDS bill that sup

PEOPLE GATHER at the Texas State Capitol on Thursday to lobby on behalf of an anti-BDS bill that supporters believe will strengthen the state’s economic ties with Israel.. (photo credit: KATHERINE KEENAN)

 
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AUSTIN, Texas – State governments across the US have taken a more aggressive stance against the anti-Israel BDS movement in the past year and a half, passing legislation that bars states from funding companies who choose to boycott Israel. Texas is now positioning itself to be the 18th state to approve such a bill.

“We’ve had so much grassroots support all across Texas...

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business community, civic leaders, leaders in the Jewish community, leaders in the Christian community,” said Rep. Phil King of the Texas House of Representatives.

“I’ve been here 18 years and I’ve never had legislation that so many people jumped up and said, ‘We want to help.’” To ensure the bill’s passage, nearly 200 community members from across Texas representing various faith groups and political organizations gathered February 9 at the state’s capitol in Austin, including members of Christians United for Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, StandWithUs and the American Jewish Committee, among others.

Supporters of the bill believe that withholding public funds from companies who refuse to do business with Israel not only upholds the state’s anti-discrimination laws based on national origin, but also bolsters the Texas- Israel economic relationship.

In the past 13 years alone, Israel has received $20 billion worth of Texas exports, making the Lone Star State Israel’s 4th largest trading partner worldwide.

“Texas is one of those showcase states where states that may be smaller or not as experienced in this process – they’re gonna draw a lot of their confidence from Texas,” said Joseph Sabag, executive national director for the Israel Allies Foundation, hinting at other states possibly following suit once Texas takes the anti-BDS plunge.

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Both King and Texas Sen.

Brandon Creighton were at the forefront of the bill’s authorship, which began a little over a year ago, and King says he feels confident the bill will generate bipartisan support. This sentiment was echoed by Sandra Hagee Parker, legal counsel for Christians United for Israel and daughter of CUFI founder and national chairman Pastor John Hagee.

“Because this has support of not only Republicans, but also Democrats, Christians, Jews [and] people of other faiths, it’s nice to have something around this time which multiple people – regardless of how they pray, or how they vote – can agree upon,” Hagee Parker said.

The bill would prohibit Texas government entities from contracting with businesses who engage in BDS, including blocking any state pension and endowment funds for institutions such as the Teacher Retirement System, the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the University of Texas Investment Management Company.

What is unique to the Texas bill is the absence of a minimum threshold, which dictates that state contracts with private companies who boycott Israel would have to surpass a certain financial threshold to violate any anti-BDS legislation.

Because the Texas bill does not require this threshold, all pro- BDS companies, regardless of their financial standing with the state, would not receive state funds.

Critics of the bill claim it infringes upon the First Amendment right to free speech, something both Sabag and King say is coming from a place of misunderstanding, adding that the law specifies a restriction on state allocation of funds and not private financial decision-making.

“Folks who hate Israel and continue hating Israel – that’s their fundamental right, we believe in the First Amendment,” Sabag said. “We’re just simply saying we don’t want the State of Texas spending taxpayer dollars with a company that engages in national origin discrimination.”

Per King, the law is expected to pass during the legislative session amid widespread support.

“This is not a Republican bill, this is not a Democrat bill – this is a right and wrong bill,” he said.

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