A measure aimed at stopping a form of financial protest against Israel for human rights abuses passed the Minnesota House Thursday night. The “Israel Boycott Ban” bill — HF400 — would ban the state of Minnesota, including Minnesota colleges and universities, from contracting with vendors boycotting Israel.
The bill is a reaction to a national movement of “boycott-divest-sactions” (BDS) actions against Israel, which are meant to hold the State of Israel accountable for its human rights abuses of Palestine and Palestinians.
It’s also part of a larger trend in the legislature to outlaw or silence dissent.
Critics of the anti-boycott bill say it not only infringes on the first amendment, but it also forces Minnesota to take a foreign policy position on the conflicts between Israel and Palestine.
Video:Bill Limits “Ability Of People To Fight Towards Justice And Peace”
Video at top: Rep. Ilhan Omar on why she opposes the bill
Video below: Testimony against the Senate version of the bill
“I would have loved to vote for a bill that expands our ideals of fighting against discrimination, that actually stood up against all discrimination. I don’t want to be part of a vote that limits the ability of people to fight towards justice and peace,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Minneapolis) who voted against the bill.
The bill also had the attention of the ACLU of Minnesota which is concerned about state and local governments who would retaliate against protected freedoms.
“Boycotts to achieve political goals are a form of expression that the Supreme Court has ruled are protected by the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech, assembly, and petition,” said a statement from the ACLU.
Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), the bill author, argued that HF400 was a vote in favor of Israel as an economic partner for Minnesota and against anti-semitism.
His sentiments were not shared by some members of the Jewish community who testified against the bill in committee.
“I understand anti-semitism. BDS is not anti-semitic,” said Andrew Berman, a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, who testified in a committee meeting against the bill.
According to its website, the BDS movement was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and urges nonviolent pressure on Israel to comply with international law. It has three demands:
- Ending the occupation and dismantling the apartheid wall in the West Bank
- The recognition of full-equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel
- Respecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.
The BDS movement does not endorse either a two-state or single-state solution.
“As we move forward in this body and as we look at that we are creating laws that respect all people, as we create policies and practices that create the practices that we were all valued, that bring humanity to us, that is what the Palestinians are asking for right?” said Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) during the House floor discussion on HF400. Moran voted no on the bill.
Other bills also aimed at silencing dissent
HF400 is just one of several bills which has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature this year whose aim is to silence dissent. These include HF322 which would give cities the right to sue protestors to recover costs related to policing, and HF390 which would impose stiff punishment on those who would block a highway or otherwise, a long-accepted form of protest. The authors of the bills say they are needed for “public safety.”
“Make no mistake: these bills are a response to the power of the people,” read a statement from Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group at the University of Minnesota.
Last year Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) called on the University of Minnesota to divest from Israel and launched the #UMNDivest campaign. SJP was particularly focused on four contracts held by the University of Minnesota with vendors based in Israel or actively supporting Israel. At the time 80 state legislators wrote a letter to President Kaler asking for him to publicly oppose a resolution from SJP which would have bought a vote on a BDS resolution to the Minnesota Student Association. SJP believes that HF400 and similar bills are a response to their campaign and the success of the BDS movement across Minnesota and nationally.
While Kresha and bill supporters insist that the bill is not an attack on protected speech, and have included a clause saying so, opponents fear that the bill will make it easy for Minnesotans who oppose Israel human rights and others to be discriminated against and that the bill would attack freedoms of expression and association, which Rep. Liebling, who voted against the bill, said must be protected from authoritarianism and tyranny.
As of January of 2017 at least 50 anti-BDS legislative measures have been introduced across the country and 16 states have passed anti-BDS legislation.
Governor Mark Dayton has said he would sign the bill if it were passed despite the fact that, as Dayton noted, no companies currently contracted with Minnesota are also boycotting Israel.
The Senate companion to HF400, SF247, has been referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy.
Cirien Saadeh, the author of this article is Arab-American with ties to Jordan and Palestine.