Last year, activists forced a music festival in Spain to cancel a performance by Matisyahu. Part of a global movement to demonize and isolate Israel, the activists issued an ultimatum demanding that the reggae star denounce the Jewish State before he could perform. Of all the scheduled performances, his was the only one required to meet the anti-Israel litmus test. He refused, and the event organizers acceded to the demand, only relenting after an international outcry.
Some onlookers were surprised by the targeting of Matisyahu, a relatively apolitical but well-known religious American Jew (not an Israeli). However, those familiar with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement understood all too well: attacking the State of Israel has become a convenient pretext for the expression of anti-Jewish bigotry.
Rather than promoting peace, the BDS movement denies the right of the Jewish State to exist, regularly employing tactics designed to harm Israel. Its use of false, demonizing and delegitimizing propaganda to promote negative public perceptions of Israel and foment commercial discrimination against the country has been well-documented by expert anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League. As a sad result, in California, Israeli commercial ships have been disrupted at the Port of Oakland, and student governments in our state university system are succumbing to the lies and propaganda of the BDS movement by voting in favor of divestment from Israel.
In light of these developments, particularly the targeting of Israel’s international trade partners and supporters, California must be proactive. Israel is one of our key bilateral trading partners in important sectors such as technology, defense, and health sciences. In fact, California’s exports to Israel totaled more than $2.3 billion in 2014. Most recently, Israeli water technology experts have helped Californians navigate through one of the worst droughts in the state's history. Further, Israel is currently the 25th largest trading partner with the United States with $36 billion in total trade during 2013. Any effort to inflict economic harm upon Israel weakens the ability California and the United States to conduct business, and blatantly undermines the vital economic and employment interests of our nation.
The BDS movement clearly demonstrates that boycotts of entities and individuals affiliated with specific countries can amount to ethnic, religious, racial and/or national origin discrimination. In May, the “red” state of South Carolina became the first in the country to pass legislation defending against such commercial discrimination and boycotts, which includes Israel. In June, the “blue” state of Illinois followed suit. These two states – and many others that will soon pass similar legislation – acted both to defend their economic interests and to reinforce their public policy protections against discrimination and intolerance.
Recently, I announced that California’s legislature would take similar action to protect our citizens and economy in the coming session. I have sponsored legislation (AB 1552) that prohibits state entities from contracting with parties that engage in commercial discrimination and boycotts on the basis of national origin. This bill does not penalize or in any way infringe on private rights to free expression, and therefore steers clear of any First Amendment concerns. Rather, the legislation exercises the state’s right to choose with whom it will contract, recognizing that such prudence when spending taxpayer funds is an important part of upholding California’s economic interests and values. The legislation being considered respects the First Amendment rights of the BDS proponents to sell prejudice and even spread malicious falsehoods if they choose. However, it makes clear that California taxpayers won’t be forced to buy it.
My hope is that all who oppose discrimination will join in supporting the passage of this important bill and other states will follow our lead. Though we cannot put an end to hate and bigotry, together we can make sure it is defeated.
Allen is a California Assemblyman first elected in November of 2012 to represent the 72nd Assembly District, which includes Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Westminster and Los Alamitos.