Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign into law the first-ever state action against Israel boycotts, he announced via Twitter on Monday.
Rauner made the announcement after the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would require the state to identify companies that boycott Israel and to withhold investing Illinois pension funds from the companies. The bill passed the house 102-0 on Monday and passed the state Senate 49-0 with 3 “present” April 22.
“We’re deeply supportive of Israel, and anything that’s going to threaten it by economically isolating it … is going to be of concern to us,” said Suzanne Strassberger, associate vice president of government affairs at Jewish United Fund. “We are pleased to have legislation pass with such strong support.”
The Illinois Coalition to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech was originally formed to fight legislation last year that would have punished or condemned groups supporting the academic boycotts against Israel. That legislation was killed after the coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois took a stance against them. This time, ACLU did not take a stance and the coalition of 12 groups could not defeat the bill’s bipartisan support, which gave zero dissenting votes through all committee discussions.
In February, Northwestern’s Associated Student Government narrowly passed a resolution asking the University to divest from six companies sponsors said violate Palestinian human rights.
Northwestern Divest, the movement that sponsored the resolution, said the proposed law erodes non-violent methods of Palestinian resistance and that it does not make a distinction between Israel and its “illegal” settlements.
“Not only is this bill unconstitutional but it is also counterproductive to peace in the conflict and to progress towards justice and basic human rights for the Palestinians,” NUDivest said in a statement to The Daily. “This bill will force us to fight for our constitutional freedoms of speech and association if we wish to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians.”
Wildcats for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group, opposed the NU resolution, but applauded the Illinois bill and the wide support it saw in Illinois General Assembly. Co-president Ross Krasner, a Medill freshman, said the bill did not restrict free speech, as companies are not being denied the right to boycott.
“(The Illinois bill) says you’re free to profit from Illinois investment dollars or you’re free to boycott Israel,” he said, “but in Illinois you’re no longer free to choose both.”
Bill Chambers (Weinberg ’72), a news spokesman for the coalition, said the unanimous passing was not surprising, and the coalition intends to continue to fight the bill even after it is signed into law. He said the boycotts specifically target West Bank settlements, and the bill strains an already overburdened pension system.
“The state of Illinois should not be protecting Israel from boycotts that are really protesting human rights abuses (and) illegal settlements that are in the West Bank,” he said. “The state legislature should be focused on how do they address this financial crisis. Instead they’ve chosen to burden the pension system with this politically motivated policy.”
Tennessee and Indiana have passed resolutions condemning Israel boycotts, but Illinois would be the only state to take direct action.