The BDS movement just ran into a brick wall in Rhode Island

posted at 2:01 pm on June 19, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

The movement (largely taking place on America’s college campuses) to force United States business and government entities to Boycott, Divest from and Sanction Israel has found itself on decidedly hostile turf in Rhode Island. Not only are the goals of the movement being widely and loudly rejected in social circles and speeches, but now the state legislature has passed a bill which is serving them up a dose of their own medicine. If it goes into effect, all government agencies will be barred by law from entering into contractual agreements or doing business with any entities who are associated with the BDS movement. (Legal Insurrection)

The Rhode Island legislature has joined numerous other states in passing legislation prohibiting the state and its subdivisions from contracting with entities involved in discriminatory boycotts, which would cover the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Signature by the Governor is expected.

The recognition that boycotts based on religion and national origin are discriminatory is a prime focus of such legislation. There is no doubt that Israel is singled out because it is majority Jewish and that Israelis are singled out because of national origin.

Such boycott anti-discrimination laws have been on the books for decades in New York and California. The New York law caused the GreenStar Food Coop in Ithaca to reject a BDS resolution, and the California law forced the BDS-compliant American Studies Association to abandon its annual meeting policy of excluding representatives or officials of Israeli universities.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m generally not a big fan of boycotts organized by large, well funded astroturf groups and especially not by the government. They tend to wind up casting too wide of a net and invoking the law of unintended consequences. But they are sadly a reality of the modern era, and if there’s one boycott you can probably get behind it’s this one. There is plenty of room in our national debate for criticism of some of the policies put in place by the government of Israel, but no attempts at false equivalency will ever put Benjamin Netanyahu and the Knesset on the same playing field as Hamas and the terrorists. And the tone of those whipping up the BDS movement is decidedly not one of simple disagreement on security measures or national boundaries, but rather a vocally anti-semitic one. It also ignores the reality that the United States government is not obligated to “treat all nations equally” and that we can and should be a bit more deferential to our loyal friends and allies than to nations which oppose our interests and/or support terrorism.

Rhode Island isn’t exactly breaking new ground here. As Professor Jacobson notes, other states have already taken similar steps, including New York. But since we’re on the specific subject of the government engaging in boycotts, this raises another interesting question. Since so much of this BDS activity is taking place on college campuses, I seem to recall something about the Department of Education providing funding to public schools and universities. And when any entity even tangentially associated with a state or local government fails to comply with government mandates relating to schools, the Department of Education is pretty quick to jump in and threaten to cut off their federal funding.

Why do schools which tolerate anti-semitic BDS campaigns on their campuses and the states which support them not have all of their funds immediately revoked? Is it just me or is there a bit of a double standard at play here?

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