Activists Clash On Proposal To Bar State Participation In Israeli Boycott

Bill Would Bar Local Governments, State From Engaging With Boycott Of Israeli Businesses

Wisconsin State Capitol
Mike Steele (CC BY)

Lawmakers heard impassioned testimony Wednesday in the state Capitol regarding a proposal that would bar state agencies and local governments in Wisconsin from participating in a boycott of Israeli businesses.

The bill is a response to the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement, which encourages people to boycott Israeli businesses. Supporters of the movement say they’re motivated by the country’s human rights violations.

Under the plan, local governments couldn’t approve a policy that involves them in that boycott. It would also bar the state from contracting with companies that participate in the boycott.

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Sol Kelley-Jones, a Madison-based political activist, argued at the public hearing that the bill is dangerous and anti-democratic.

“This bill before you today is a direct assault on free speech, on democracy, and on our constitutionally protected rights, and I urge you to vote against it,” Kelley-Jones told lawmakers.

Supporters of the bill say the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. They argue Wisconsin should take a public stand against it.

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation supports the bill. A number of other Jewish advocacy groups testified in support of the measure Wednesday.

“I think this is just one great example of saying that we as Wisconsin stand with Israel, and they’re our ally, and we’ve got their back,” said Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, the bill’s sponsor.

The bill has yet to be voted on in a state Assembly or Senate committee.