The Kansas state senate passed an anti-BDS bill to outlaw state business with companies that boycott Israel on Friday by a vote of 28-9 in the capital of Topeka.
The Wichita Eagle reported that the bill will be sent to the House chamber for a full vote. The anti-boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) legislation defines boycott as: “engaging in a refusal to deal, terminating business activities or performing other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with persons or entities doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel, if those actions are taken either.”
The broad language of the bill would penalize companies that seek to punish Israel because of the territorial dispute with the Palestinians. The bill passed the House in April by a vote of 116-9 but was amended by the Senate.
The change to the original House bill addressed an amendment allowing the Kansas secretary of administration to bypass compliance with the anti-BDS law if “that compliance is not practicable or in the best interest of the state.” Senator Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, advocated the amendment change. Senators voted to include the revision by 25-13.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Hawk said that the anti-BDS bill could impact academic freedom. Included was an example of “a Middle Eastern studies class that wants to subscribe to a Palestinian journal that may have signed on to a boycott.”
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, told the paper that the debate is not about the right to free speech but the objectives of public policy in the state of Kansas to fight discrimination based on national origin. “He [Fitzgerald] asked rhetorically whether lawmakers would support the state doing business with firms that were openly racist.”
Fitzgerald rejected the latitude provided to the secretary of administration to “waive the no-boycott requirement,” according to the paper. He added the waiver means “anti-Semitism is tolerable, it’s OK, we’ll go along with it.”
Fitzgerald said, “It is embarrassing to say we object to anti-Semitism except when it’s inconvenient for the educational establishment.”
Human rights groups have labeled the BDS movement as antisemitic. The French government classifies BDS activity as criminal and various German political parties, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, say BDS is a modernized version of the Nazi movement’s boycott campaign against Jewish businesses during the 1930s.
In 2016, Kansas imported $83.7 million worth of commodities from Israel, while exports totaled $56.7 million.
The Kansas state legislative website wrote, “The Director of Marketing and Research at the Kansas Department of Commerce provided proponent testimony, highlighting the economic impact of Israel as a trading partner and ally with Kansas and the United States, as well as examples of Israeli companies that are based in Kansas.”
The state website noted, “Opponent testimony was provided by a representative of Citizens for Justice in the Middle East. The opponent questioned the legality and constitutionality of the bill in denying companies the right to boycott or divest Israeli investments. The opponent further defended the BDS movement as a way to object to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and argued the bill was an avenue to suppress dissent.”