On July 6, I had the honor of joining Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire as he signed an executive order that prevents the governor’s agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. Anti-BDS laws and policies such as these function as an economic Iron Dome against Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a global campaign to isolate and boycott Israel, in order to end its existence.
Thirty-six states (including Pennsylvania) now have similar anti-BDS laws, and one additional state has a non-binding resolution. Despite their popularity, anti-BDS laws remain subject to opposition and misinformation by a small but loud group of actors, such as the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Israel. The discriminatory COI was created to keep Israel permanently on trial in the international community and has become embroiled in multiple antisemitic scandals.
In its latest report, the COI falsely suggested that our states’ anti-BDS laws suppress free speech and are subject to foreign influence. These false claims aroused the ire of legislative leaders. Representatives and senators from 42 states (including Pennsylvania’s own Rep. Dan Frankel and Rep. Mary Jo Daley) responded with a public letter on July 6, rejecting the COI’s “authority, legitimacy, and findings,” and condemning the COI for its “unwelcome intrusion into [their] states’ affairs and democratic processes.”
Another response to the COI’s double standards and antisemitism came from Sununu, who invited Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, to attend the signing ceremony of his executive order. Addressing Sununu, Erdan said: “Your crucial step is creating an economic Iron Dome that ensures our shared progress and prosperity. But not only are you defending our shared interests. You are also fortifying the moral Iron Dome protecting the values of truth, justice and morality.”
However incorrect the COI’s statements might have been, they have emboldened the anti-BDS cause and helped more people, including me, to understand just how essential anti-BDS laws are — both practically and morally. Anti-BDS laws protect state interests (i.e., business) and prevent states from being complicit in discrimination (i.e., national-origin discrimination against Israelis). This is why such laws have received support all over the country and across the political aisle.
All too often, BDS activists, through their boycott and divestment campaigns, prioritize isolating Israel at all costs, including at the expense of our communities and local businesses. They pressure businesses into abandoning trade with Israel, regardless of how profitable that trade might be. Anti-BDS bills defend against BDS activists’ attempts to sabotage our own economy in the name of their obsession with a foreign policy that discriminates against Israelis, both at home and abroad.
Discrimination is always wrong, and state-sponsored discrimination is particularly egregious, making anti-BDS laws that much more important. The COI’s suggestion that these laws impede free speech is absolutely false. Supporters of BDS are free to continue expressing their opinions and boycotting Israel. What they are losing is the privilege of entering into contracts or investments with state governments. Anti-BDS laws have been challenged in U.S. courts, including the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Arkansas’ anti-BDS law as constitutional (see Arkansas Times v. Waldrip). This court remains the highest court to date to rule on anti-BDS legislation. The challenges failed because the laws do not impinge on First Amendment rights.
Sununu’s executive order also aims to help us identify antisemitism by adopting the world’s leading definition of antisemitism — the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition, considered the “gold standard” and most widely-accepted definition of antisemitism. As the IHRA working definition of antisemitism confirms, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is generally to be considered as antisemitism, and it is exactly what BDS’ founders and leaders advocate. Omar Barghouti, the outspoken founder of BDS, has said, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine … [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Barghouti and others who are engaged in promoting BDS consider all of Israel as Palestine.
At a time when Jews comprise roughly 2.4% of the population but suffer nearly 60% of all religiously-motivated hate crimes, preventing state-sponsored antisemitism is more important now than ever in America.
The passing of anti-BDS legislation along with the adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is a significant step forward in fighting institutional antisemitism and having bipartisan legislators from across the country make it clear that U.S. states, and not international bodies, determine U.S. law, sends a critical message to biased bodies such as the UNHRC. For the sake of American pluralism, democracy and prosperity, we must take notice and oppose the UN COI’s false statements about our state’s anti-BDS laws. As Americans, we must continue to ensure that our state governments do not use our hard-earned tax dollars to fuel discrimination, such as the BDS movement’s antisemitism, but instead continue to fight back by supporting anti-BDS legislation and the adoption of the IHRA definition across the nation. Even more important, Congress must take up the COI Elimination Act to send a strong message to the UNHRC that the U.S. will not fund antisemitic discrimination. PJC
Julie Paris is the Mid-Atlantic regional director of StandWithUs, an international nonprofit and nonpartisan education
organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism. Learn more at standwithus.com.