Missouri governor expected to sign anti-BDS bill into law

Nancy Lisker, regional director of American Jewish Committee St. Louis,

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

The Missouri legislature approved a bill Thursday that would require certain companies entering into a contract with the state to certify that they are not, and will not, engage in a boycott of Israel.

Some pro-Israel lawmakers and advocates have tried repeatedly in recent years to pass anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement legislation in the state, but previous attempts have failed in part because of opposition from lawmakers concerned that it violates people’s rights to free speech.

This is the first time that the legislature has approved such a bill, and Gov. Mike Parson is expected to sign it.

While groups such as the American Jewish Committee- St. Louis lobbied in support of the bill and celebrated its passage, there was not unanimous support for the bill in the Jewish community.

“The legislature has taken bold action to combat the insidious and hateful BDS movement that singles out Israel and encourages punitive actions against its economy and citizens. We look forward to Gov. Parson signing this important bill into law,” Nancy Lisker, regional AJC director said in a statement. “Israelis and Palestinians want peace, they want investment not divestment, and they want for the whole region to prosper. Through this legislation both economies, Missouri’s and Israel’s, will continue to grow.”

The House approved the bill on a 95 to 40 vote, and the Senate did so on a 28 to 1 vote.

Other states that have passed similar legislation have faced legal challenges in recent years from the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that the laws violate individuals’ free speech rights. In Missouri, supporters have countered such opposition by saying that the legislation does not target individuals but rather companies worth over $100,000 with 10 or more employees.

“Proud to see the bipartisan support for the country of Israel as our ally in the Middle East,” State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County, wrote in a text message to the Light. “Our economic and democratic values are realized when there is safety and security in the region.”

A previous version of the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, stated the law would apply not only to boycotts of Israel but also “territories under its control,” referring to West Bank settlements.

That addition caused Israel advocates such as Schupp, who sponsored anti-BDS legislation in 2018, to withdraw her support for the bill because she said it brought “a new level of divisiveness that I’m not comfortable with.”

But the amended version did not refer to the territories, and Schupp voted in favor of it.

Schupp is now running for a U.S. House seat against Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican who testified in support of the bill in a Senate hearing in February.

“This important legislation illustrates Missourians’ support for Israel and its efforts to achieve prosperity for all its people,” Wagner said in a statement. “At a time of heightened anti-Semitism worldwide, it is more important than ever that we maintain our strong connection to Israel and resist efforts to delegitimize and isolate it through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.”

Local members of J Street, a left-leaning Israel advocacy group, testified in opposition to the bill.

“I fear, particularly in our ever more polarized, partisan world, that bills like this threaten to turn American Jews into just another football for both sides to throw around,” Rabbi Daniel Bogard of J Street and Central Reform Congregation said in the Senate. “I fear that by alienating and angering the liberal audiences that BDS seeks to engage and recruit, that this bill actually empowers the BDS movement. And I worry that any attempt to carve out a special status for Israel — the only nation-state of the Jewish people — only serves to ultimately reinforce the worst conspiracy theories of anti-Semites on the left and on the right.”

Bogard, who described himself as “deeply opposed to the BDS movement,” told the Light that after he testified against the bill, he “got so much grief from the Palestinian community, which was really kind of surprising, that I ended up getting it from both sides, and much louder from the Palestinian community than I did from anyone in the local Jewish community.”

Bogard attributed this to the fact that his primary reasons for advocating “for a two-state solution” and an end to the occupation of the West Bank was “about Jews and Israel.”

Galit Lev-Harir, a co-president of St. Louis Friends of Israel, which has spent several years advocating for anti-BDS legislation, said the group was “very excited that this has finally passed in Missouri.”

Jewish Federation of St. Louis issued a statement that the organization was “proud of the work done in the Missouri Legislature over the past few years to get this bill passed.”

As to whether the law would withstand a legal challenge from the ACLU — courts have struck down such laws in other states — Lisker wrote in an email to the Light, “We are confident that the bill will withstand constitutional challenge. It was carefully drafted to avoid any of the supposed deficiencies that have given rise to litigation elsewhere, such as the application of the law to individuals. All the bill does is guarantee the state the broadest possible market for the goods and services it purchases. The state’s power to do so is beyond any serious question.”

Christians United For Israel, an evangelical group which lobbied in support of the legislation, said in a press release that it was “grateful to the Missouri State Legislature for unequivocally saying ‘no’ to the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”