Californias anti-BDS bill moves to governors desk for signature

Both chambers of the California Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would bar the state and its public agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel, sending the legislation to the governor for his signature.

AB 2844 was written in response to anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activity at college campuses, mainline Protestant churches and other forums. The bill was introduced in the Assembly in January and passed in April before moving on to the Senate, where it passed by a 34-1 vote on Aug. 24.

The bill was then sent back to the Assembly for concurrence, passing that chamber on a 60-0 vote on Aug. 30. It now moves to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature to become law. He has until the end of September to act on the legislation.

The bill’s language specifically opposing boycotts of Israel had been watered down in committee, but the bill passed by the Senate reinserted some of that language — reading in part that “taxpayer funds are not used to do business with or otherwise support any state or private entity that engages in discriminatory actions [including] actions taken against individuals of the Jewish faith under the pretext of a constitutionally protected boycott or protest of the State of Israel.”

“The boycott movement’s targeting of Israel for alleged human rights violations begs the question, ‘Why target the only Jewish state in the world and no other country?’ ” asked Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who chairs the Legislative Jewish Caucus. “No nation is perfect, but certainly any violations of human rights by Israel pale in comparison to those committed by China, or Russia, or Saudi Arabia. Yet only the Jewish state is being targeted.”

Earlier this month, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Appropriations estimated the bill would cost the state as much as $370,000 this year and $650,000 every year thereafter to implement.

Block disputed those figures, saying they were grossly inflated.

“That’s to make sure there is enough money there to protect what bills are passed,” he told J. “The figures they listed would come into play if there were tens or hundreds of corporations boycotting Israeli products or Israel, and there would have to be hearings and action by the attorney general’s office. This [bill] is a statement that California is open for business with Israel, one of our most important business partners, and if you’re planning to boycott Israel, you’d better think twice.”

Block said he met with Brown about the bill, though the governor did not indicate whether he would sign it. Block said he was pleased with the current language.

“In the beginning it paralleled parts of bills from South Carolina, New York and other states that passed anti-BDS bills,” Block noted. “As strongly pro-Israel, I liked the first version. That said, I feared those other bills might be susceptible to constitutional challenges down the road. This California bill, as re-crafted in the Senate Judiciary Committee, will escape any constitutional attack.” — dan pine

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.