State senators cosponsor anti-BDS legislation

State Senators Jill Schupp and Mike Kehoe co-sponsored anti-BDS legislation.

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

A bipartisan pair of Missouri state senators have introduced legislation that would bar businesses that engage in a boycott of Israel from receiving state contracts.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the legislation with Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur. 

“This legislation supports Israel and recognizes them as our ally and makes clear that we will not stand for discrimination against Israel,” said Schupp, who is Jewish. Kehoe did not respond to requests for comment.

The effort comes as groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to increase international pressure on Israel over what supporters describe as the government’s oppression of Palestinians. Twenty-four states have approved anti-BDS legislation, according to Jewishvirtuallibrary.org.

Supporters of the bill say they are not aware of companies that have supported boycotts of Israel and tried to do business with Missouri.

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“We just want to get ahead of the curve and send a strong message to companies that seek to delegitimize and isolate Israel economically,” said Jenny Wolkowitz, who has lobbied lawmakers on the bill and received the Orthodox congregation Nusach Hari B’nai Zion’s (NHBZ) Israel Advocacy Award along with her husband, Rich, last month. 

She and Schupp said they are optimistic that the legislature will approve the bill because of the bipartisan support for it. 

Critics of such laws say they limit free speech. Texas approved a similar law to the legislation proposed in Missouri.

After Hurricane Harvey struck in August, city officials in a Houston suburb required applicants for grant relief to certify that they do not boycott Israel. 

“It’s a complete misunderstanding of the statute,” a state senator told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In response, the American City Liberties Union expressed opposition to the law. 

Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar who helped draft many of the laws, told JTA that “these are new laws, they’ve been passed in the last couple of years and not everyone is going to immediately understand what they’re supposed to do.”

Wolkowitz, who worked for former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said of the Missouri legislation, “we were very careful to craft legislation so that there is no overstepping into freedom of speech, so for instance, an individual can have their anti-Israel sentiment” and would only be prevented from receiving a state contract if they seek to “isolate and not do business with Israel.”