As many people are aware, the Kentucky Legislature, in its last regular session, passed a bill that prohibits the commonwealth from engaging in significant business with contractors who choose to boycott any nation that does business with the State of Israel.
While the law does not mention Israel specifically, there are very few calls for boycotts of any other country.
The bill does not infringe on any individual’s right to free speech. For the rejection of a state contract to kick in, the company needs to have a minimum of five employees and the contract needs to be worth more than $100,000. Other states got in trouble when individual independent contractors wanted to work for the state and were refused because of their boycott of Israel – a situation that will be avoided with Kentucky’s law.
Thankfully, there is not a whole lot of boycotting of Israel by companies here or around the world. The Jewish state’s economy is quite robust; its hi-tech sector is playing host to companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and particularly Intel, which has started a $10 billion research and development campus there. Israeli technology and start-up companies are used every day by people around the world, and Israel’s GDP continues to climb lists of Western countries.
So why was it important to pass this bill? It is a statement by Kentucky that the BDS movement will have no home here and that boycotting Israel runs counter to the values and interests of Kentuckians.
The BDS movement is anti-Semitic. In fact, a law passed by the German parliament last week affirmed this. BDS singles out Israel with misleading accusations of violations of international law and war crimes, often to the exclusion of other countries with far worse human rights records.
BDS is antithetical to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and endorses extreme measures – namely, the right of over five million Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes inside Israel – that are simply not realistic for any resolution to this conflict.
What we don’t want this law to do is chill any fair criticism of Israel, and we are confident it does not. Israel is not perfect and criticism, sometimes in a very harsh form, is warranted. Israelis themselves are often critical of their nation’s actions. Mainstream American Jewish organizations have been fiercely critical of Israel in recent months. The Anti-Defamation League, The American Jewish Committee, AIPAC and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Louisville have all criticized statements of the prime minister or policies of the government.
But BDS is an attack on Israel’s legitimacy and we welcome efforts to confront it.
This law could not have passed without the support of our friends in the community at large, particularly Kentucky’s chapter of Christians United For Israel. This bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, codified into law the executive order that was passed last November by Governor Matt Bevin. Jewish leaders from Louisville and Lexington turned out for the order’s signing ceremony at the Capitol, as did Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.
The new law sends a strong message to the world: Support for Israel in Kentucky is strong and likely will stay that way.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)