Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law that will restrict any state pension or state-funded retirement program from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel. The law, SB 1761, was approved by Illinois state legislatures earlier this year.
While the law may appear to be a setback for the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement (BDS), it does not make boycotting Israel illegal. Rahul Saksena, attorney with Palestine Legal told The Electronic Intifada (EI), “boycotting Israel is a constitutionally protected right that cannot be taken away by state law.”
“While we should oppose any government action against BDS [the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement], we want to emphasize that the new Illinois law does not prohibit anyone, including students, from boycotting Israel or advocating for BDS,” Saksena told EI.
If not for Palestinian solidarity activists in Illinois, the law could have been much worse. Palestine Legal told The Electronic Intifada that the earlier version of the law “was watered down after a successful advocacy campaign by Palestine solidarity activists in Illinois, along with civil rights and civil liberties organizations.”
The law is intended to punish companies that boycott Israel.
The law states:
“[The bill] prohibits a State agency from entering into a contract subject to the Code with a business that boycotts Israel. Amends the General Provisions Article of the Illinois Pension Code. Requires each of the 5 State-funded retirement systems (or the Illinois State Board of Investment where applicable) to make its best efforts to identify all companies that boycott Israel in which it has direct or indirect holdings and, under certain circumstances, to divest itself of holdings in those companies.”
The law defines boycotting Israel as, “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”