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Are boycotts against Israel anti-Semitism or free speech?

File: Palestinian-Americans and their supporters shout at a supporter of Israel during a protest march on Aug. 16, 2014 in Los Angeles.
File: Palestinian-Americans and their supporters shout at a supporter of Israel during a protest march on Aug. 16, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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A California state bill that would punish companies participating in the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel recently passed the California state Senate Judiciary Committee.

The controversial movement calls on individuals and companies to boycott Israel until it ends occupying “all Arab lands.” Rather than punish boycotts directly, AB 2844 targets “violations of existing anti-discrimination laws that take place under the pretext of a boycott or other ‘policy’ aimed at ‘any sovereign nation or people recognized by the government of the United States, including, but not limited to, the nation and people of Israel,’" according to a Los Angeles Times editorial. It also requires those seeking state government contracts to certify that they haven't engaged in discrimination through such a policy.

There is disagreement about the the strength of the current bill, as language directly referencing BDS has been removed in favor of more general assertions that reference the existing Unruh Civil Rights Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

This has not mitigated the controversy surrounding the legislation.

Proponents of the bill seek to portray the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. Dillon Hosier, senior political adviser for the nonprofit advocacy organization Israeli-American Nexus, said that it has created an insidious anti-Jewish environment across California.

“Californians are being targeted who have zero connection to the government of Israel,” Hosier said. “What BDS has become is not ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions,’ [but rather] ‘bigotry, discrimination and anti-Semitism.’”

Opponents of the legislation argue the bill violates the First Amendment.

Estee Chandler is a founding member of the Los Angeles Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that seeks to end Israel’s presence in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. She finds the California legislature’s actions against BDS  “deeply troubling," saying she sees what the Legislature is doing as punishing political speech.

“From the start, AB 2844 was introduced to single out, stigmatize and suppress the political speech of Californians who criticized ... Israeli and U.S. policies,” Chandler said. “Denying state business to an otherwise qualified contractor based solely on their views about Israel and their participation in a legal boycott … goes beyond government exercising its speech, and it impedes on our constitutional rights.”

AB 2844 passed an initial vote in the Assembly, and last week it passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Next, it heads to a vote in the Appropriations Committee in early August.

Assembly Bill 2844


Dillon Hosier, national director of state governmental affairs for the Israeli-American Council, that advocates on behalf of the pro-Israel and Israeli-American communities

Estee Chandler, founding member of the Los Angeles Chapter for Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization that seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem