January 18, 2019

Brown signs anti-BDS measure into law

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24 signed into law a much-debated bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Assembly Bill 2844, better known simply as “the anti-BDS bill,” requires companies that contract with the state to verify they don’t engage in discriminatory conduct due to a boycott of Israel or any other sovereign state. Israel is the only country mentioned by name.

While the bill’s advocates had forecasted a signature from the governor, Brown made no public statements about it. So when news of the signing broke on a Shabbat afternoon, it came as something of a surprise.

Supporters of the bill quickly and roundly praised the signing.

“The bill sends the clear and unmistakable message that the state of California wants no part of the goals and tactics of the BDS movement,” Janna Weinstein Smith, the Los Angeles director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said in a statement.

Even among its supporters, the bill’s path to law has been an obstacle course since Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) first introduced it in April.

When Bloom introduced the bill, he was competing with a nearly identical bill by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach). Eventually, Allen joined Bloom’s effort, which had the support of the California Jewish Legislative Caucus.

By the time the consensus effort reached the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, it had run afoul of First Amendment concerns from its critics – namely, that the bill as written would unconstitutionally stifle the free speech of would-be boycotters.

The original bill mandated that companies doing business with California for more than $100,000 would not be allowed to boycott Israel. But the Appropriations Committee blunted the bill’s mechanisms, and removed all mention of the Jewish state.

Once the bill settled into its final form, it sailed through the Senate and the Assembly, garnering only one no-vote in each house.

Yet it was not without its dissidents. Over the course of the legislative battle, the American Civil Liberties Union voiced strong opposition, citing free speech concerns, as did a number of organizations sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Critics denounced the bill variously as a needless repetition of state discrimination law and an effort to chill free speech.

“The sponsors have jumped through hoops and hurdles trying to amend the bill to make it ‘less unconstitutional,’ but you can’t fix a fundamentally flawed bill,” Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, told the Journal via email shortly before it passed the Senate.

According to Palestine Legal, California is now the 12th state to pass some form of restriction on anti-Israel boycotts.