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March 17, 2016 6:20 am

California Strengthens Proposed Anti-BDS Legislation

avatar by Joshua Sharf

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California State Senate chamber. Photo: Wikipedia.

California State Senate chamber. Photo: Wikipedia.

Sponsors of a bipartisan bill to prevent the California state government from contracting with companies that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel are trying to narrow the bill’s focus to apply specifically to Israel.

Assembly Bill 1552 (AB 1552) initially targeted companies boycotting members of the World Trade Organization on the basis of “race, color, religion, gender or nationality.”

Amendments unveiled earlier this month by bill sponsor Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) make clear that the bill’s intended focus is the anti-Israel BDS movement. The amendments include a Legislative Declaration of Intent that specifically references Israel, and rewrites the opening paragraph to read, “… a public entity shall not enter into a contract … if the contracting company is participating in a boycott of Israel.”

After consulting with various stakeholders and fellow legislators, bill co-sponsors were concerned about the potential, unintended consequences of the broadly worded bill, and decided that their policy purposes were better served by making the language more specific.

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“We introduced it back in January because countless individuals both Jewish and non-Jewish were disturbed by the growing trend of the BDS movement in California, including votes on several college campuses,” said Assemblyman Allen. “Some of our most cherished rights are those of our First Amendment, and individuals have the right to boycott anyone they want to. AB 1552 will make sure that we’re not funding prejudice against one of our most vital allies.”

Despite the fact that much of the impetus for action came from events at California universities, the Assemblyman and his staff both confirmed that public colleges and universities would not be affected by it.

The bill has strong bipartisan support in both houses of the legislature, which is one of the reasons that bill sponsors are optimistic about its passage in a body dominated by Democrats. There are currently 10 sponsors — seven assemblymen and three senators — made up of seven Republicans and three Democrats.

While current US law prevents American companies from boycotting allies, the California bill would apply to both US and foreign companies.

Allen cited legislation recently passed in several other states, including South Carolina, Illinois, Florida, Indiana and Arizona, when discussing the California bill.

The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly’s rules committee this week, and then assigned to a policy committee for hearings. As in other state legislatures, individuals and organizations may testify at committee hearings, and bill sponsors are encouraging supporters to do so.

At this time, the bill’s sponsors are unaware of any organized opposition to the bill, and are still in the process of adding additional co-sponsors. Official fiscal analyses of the bill are expected to be completed in the next several weeks.

Asked about securing Governor Brown’s signature, Assemblyman Allen was optimistic. “The governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding encouraging increased trade with Israel, so we’re hoping he looks favorably on the relationship and would want to do everything to protect it.”

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