Rhode Island Lawmaker Hails ‘Oddly Quick, Very Unique’ Passage of Anti-BDS Bill
The Rhode Island legislature’s passage of a recent bill that includes provisions against a boycott of Israel was “oddly quick and very unique,” the lawmaker who introduced it told The Algemeiner on Monday.
Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-45, Cumberland, Lincoln) said that after becoming aware of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement a couple of years ago, “I knew I had to do something.” The bill was first introduced in late February and passed by a vote of 63-4 on Thursday, which Ackerman called a very short turnaround.
Bill H7736 — “Anti-Discrimination in State Contracts” — is the latest in a series of similar laws passed by numerous states prohibiting government entities from conducting business with companies involved in discriminatory boycotts, including activities pertaining to the BDS movement. According to the language of the bill — which is expected to be signed soon into law by Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo:
‘Boycott’ means to blacklist, divest from, sanction or otherwise refuse to deal with a person, firm or entity, or public entity of a foreign state, when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender, or nationality of the targeted person, firm, entity or public entity of a foreign state…
A public entity shall not enter into a contract with a business…unless the contract includes a representation that the business is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the business will not during the duration of the contract engage in the boycott of any person, firm or entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade, and/or the boycott of any public agencies, entities or instrumentalities of the jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade.
The bill, Ackerman explained, is a proactive step against the BDS movement, “which we want to get out in front of, as opposed to react to. Support for BDS is becoming a national trend, with a lot of that support stemming from universities. As a small state, we need to take a stand.”
H7736 was met with opposition, mostly from the far-Left and university students, the Rhode Island lawmaker said. “We met a lot of resistance from students at Brown University, who said the bill was a violation of their First Amendment rights. They did not understand that it had nothing to do with free speech and private conduct, but rather focused on regulating commercial activity,” Ackerman told The Algemeiner.
One particular group — notorious anti-Israel and anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace — offered harsh and vocal opposition. “They are a left-wing fringe group and many people couldn’t understand why a ‘Jewish’ group was against the bill. The Jewish people as a whole are totally on board with action against the BDS movement, as are many Christian groups, to my surprise. I cannot believe how many people came forward in support,” she said.
Israel advocacy group Concerned Christians for Israel (CCI) was one of the local Christian Zionist organizations that threw its support behind Ackerman. Reverend Paul Terry, organizing chair of CCI, told The Algemeiner on Monday, “The reason we came into alignment with this bill is because the goal of the legislation is entirely consistent with a founding principle objective of our group — specifically support for Israel. We are extremely concerned about the efforts being made to discredit the state of Israel and bring pressure upon it to capitulate to a very unfriendly and hostile agenda.”
According to Terry, the BDS movement in Rhode Island was “caught off guard” by the swell of grassroots support for H7736, adding that “there are significant numbers of people that the mainstream media has failed to recognize that are truly supportive of Israel and are against BDS.”
“Discrimination in any form — especially as it relates to a disguised effort to target Israel and the Jewish people — is totally unacceptable and inconsistent with our Judeo-Christian beliefs and values, historically and as Americans,” Terry said.
Pro-Israel group StandWithUs — which supported Ackerman’s efforts — praised Rhode Island lawmakers for taking a “decisive stand against discrimination and bigotry targeting Israel,” the group said in a statement on Saturday.
Ackerman told The Algemeiner that with this new bill, “It is my hope that Rhode Island can increase trade relations with Israel, especially since both our economies have a lot in common. Israel is not only our biggest ally but a very important trading partner. We are building up our high-tech medical industry, which Israel is on the global forefront of.”
While H7736 is a political maneuver against those who demonize and delegitimize Israel, Ackerman said that for her, “It’s very personal.”
“I have a lot of family in Israel and am keenly aware of the fact that Israel is our biggest ally in the Middle East. It is very important to me that on the world stage we show our support for Israel. My support is unwavering and when I put my heart and soul into something, I get it done,” she said.
Rhode Island is the latest state to enact anti-BDS measures. As reported by the Algemeiner, earlier in June, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a first-of-its-kind executive order targeting the boycott movement.