January 21, 2019

Anti-BDS bill escapes legislative gridlock

For more than three months, a bill that would counter the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was stalled in California’s legislature. It was hamstrung not because of its content, but because of partisan disagreement between the California Legislative Jewish Caucus (CLJC) and the bill’s author, Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach).

But on April 13 and April 19, a virtually identical bill authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), a member of the Jewish caucus, made its first two significant steps to becoming law, passing the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review and the Committee on Judiciary. On April 13 it passed the accountability and administrative review committee with a 5-1 vote and three abstentions, despite opposition from the committee’s chairwoman, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). It passed the judiciary committee by a unanimous 10-0 vote.

Assembly Bill 2844, also known as the California Combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel Act of 2016, would force the state to stop doing business, in most instances, with companies that participate in a boycott against Israel, which is California’s 18th-largest export partner. Which companies or how much money and investments might be affected has not yet been determined, but a fiscal review will be done before the bill reaches the Assembly floor for a vote, which still depends on passage in the Appropriations Committee. 

“I believe that this policy is going to be embraced by both the Assembly and the [Senate], and it will pass, but I wouldn’t want to predict what the numbers will be,” Bloom said.

He added that there remains much work to do before AB 2844 becomes law — a law that could possibly become the strongest legislation in any state to counter the BDS movement.

Bloom had previously agreed to jointly author another bill, AB 1552, with Allen, who first launched the anti-BDS effort in the Assembly in January. Although that bill gained support, it ultimately went nowhere when Bloom and the CLJC determined that an anti-BDS bill would have a better chance of passing if spearheaded by Democrats — who have a large majority in the legislature — and pushed by the Jewish caucus.

In late March, when the Journal broke the story of the partisan battle over AB 1552 and Bloom’s plan to separately introduce a bill with the same language, Allen opposed what he said was a “very transparent play to gain credit.” Now, though, the Orange County Republican has agreed to be a principal co-author on AB 2844 and applauds its passage in committee.

“We’ve got a big bipartisan win on our hands,” Allen said. 

Asked whether he was upset about losing control over his own bill, he replied, “Absolutely not.”

“Look, legislation is a process, and at the end of the day, what’s most important is not who gets credit but that good policy is enacted into law,” he said.

He echoed a cautiously optimistic tone about the future in emphasizing that pro-Israel advocates shouldn’t assume AB 2844 will sail through the legislature.

“Passing strong, anti-BDS legislation in California is a journey with many committee hearings and floor votes ahead,” Allen said. “We’re going to need all of our partners on both sides of the aisle to stand together.”