Illinois considering a bill to punish companies that boycott Israel

Kevin Mathew, Copy Chief

Illinois will not invest in companies that boycott Israel if a new bill passes.

The policy, which could be the first in the United States to take action against the boycotts, would affect companies that take “actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with” Israel and Israeli-based companies.

The state Senate passed the bill on April 22 unanimously with three senators abstaining. Committees are currently reviewing the bill, which Gov. Bruce Rauner would sign if it passes the House, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly told The Daily.

“We need to do our part to stand up to anti-Semitism, whenever and however it appears,” she said. “This historic bipartisan legislation does just that by making Illinois the first state in the nation to divest its public pension funds from companies that boycott Israel.”

Registered lobbyist Suzanne Strassberger, associate vice president of government and community partnerships at the Jewish United Fund, said the organization supports the legislation. Although she is confident the bill will pass, she said its greatest threat will come in committee discussions.

Committees are just where opponents plan to strike, said Robert Naiman, the policy director at Just Foreign Policy which is part of a greater coalition fighting the bill.

“It could be a resolution saying that Israeli ice cream is the best ice cream in human history, (legislators) don’t want to vote no because someone can portray that as anti-Israel,” he said. “If we beat this, the way that we beat this is by preventing it from passing, by getting people to stop this from going forward rather than winning the floor vote.”

Northwestern Associated Student Government narrowly passed a resolution in February calling for the University to divest from six companies sponsors said violate Palestinian human rights.

Jonathan Kamel, a spokesman for Wildcats for Israel, said the group is very proud of the state bill.

“We’re definitely in favor of the bill,” the Weinberg junior said. “It’s actually very powerful that Illinois is actually sending the opposite message and showing that it’s very proactive about its relationship with the state of Israel as opposed to defensive.”

Northwestern Divest disagreed. The movement said the bill infringed on U.S.-guaranteed “protected speech and associational activity” by prohibiting the main means of non-violent resistance.

“The bill passed in Senate ignores the facts that the ongoing occupation is illegal and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people,” NUDivest said in a statement to The Daily. “It conflates Israel’s actions at home with those that Israel executes, contrary to international law, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In this way the bill legitimizes these crimes, and denies any differentiation between Israel and its illegal settlements.”

Ingrid Stafford, NU’s treasurer and vice president for financial operations, said NU is not one of these companies the state invests in, so the University would not be affected by the policy.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who voted for the bill, could not be reached for comment. Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Illinois Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) may vote on the bill if it reaches the House floor, but neither could be reached for comment.

The bill does not violate free speech, Strassberger said, because companies are free to continue boycotting Israel. She added the bill would send an important international message because anti-Semitism in Europe is a growing concern.

Naiman said he hopes the bill will be rejected.

“What’s really driving this in these states, and what makes it really dangerous, is its ties to the national legislation,” he said. “It may be the case that we have as great an opportunity, or responsibility, to agitate what’s happening on the federal level … if they made it a public issue.”

In the past two weeks, bills passed in Tennessee and Indiana that condemn similar boycott movements, but Illinois could be the first state to actively fight these boycotts.

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