A milestone bill meant to combat international boycotts of Israel cleared a major procedural hurdle in the Illinois House this week, paving the way for the state to become among the first to divest funds from any company supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement.
The bill, which would force Illinois’ five state pension funds to divest from any company supporting boycotts of Israel, passed by a 10-0 vote through a key executive committee on Wednesday and is now on its way to a full vote in the state’s legislature, where it is expected to garner widespread support.
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The measure has been championed by newly installed Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been pushing for such a bill since before his election in 2014, when he defeated Democrat Pat Quinn.
The anti-BDS bill—which comes on the heels of federal efforts in Congress to pass similar legislation—is among the first state-level efforts to garner widespread traction and could set the stage for other states to adopt such legislation.
If passed, Illinois would become the first state in nation to divest from companies abroad that support Israel boycotts.
In addition to barring the state’s pension funds from contracting with BDS supporters, it also prevents the taxpayer-funded groups from interacting with any country that supports rogue nations such as Iran and Sudan.
A state board would be established to monitor investments and keep a running list of any company or nation that backs BDS or is affiliated with unfriendly governments that work against Israel.
The bill was supported by a number of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Israel Project (TIP), the American Jewish Committee, and StandWithUs, among others.
TIP, for instance, waged an aggressive social media and petition drive to bring attention to the bill and garner support for it.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s most prominent pro-Israel lobbying shop, did not play a roll in pushing the bill, according to sources familiar with the situation. AIPAC has supported federal legislation to combat the BDS movement.
One source familiar with the lobbying effort told the Washington Free Beacon that AIPAC’s current focus is at the "federal level on this issue."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also would not back the bill, sources said.
"It’s been a real game changer having Governor Rauner come into office laser focused on fighting BDS," one prominent Illinois Jewish community leader familiar with the situation, told the Free Beacon.
Illinois lawmakers attempted to pass a non-binding anti-BDS measure last year. But it failed due to a lack of support from then-Gov. Quinn and other key Democratic lawmakers such as state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who holds the seat vacated by President Barack Obama in 2004.
"Last year, a Democratic governor didn't care to engage, and a non-binding resolution failed to move forward," the source said. "This year, Illinois is going to lead the world with the most innovative and concrete anti-BDS initiative to date. Groups like Jewish Federation and American Jewish Committee stood strong in support of the bill; AIPAC and ADL hid under their desks. It's been very telling."
State Sen. Raoul again objected to the measure last month during a public hearing on the issue. He criticized the legislation for creating a potential "slippery slope."
While Raoul said he does not support boycotts of Israel, there may be a point in the future when some might see them as necessary.
"Israel is a democracy like ours. And Israel can have a different leadership in the future, and there can be something that comes about from that leadership that calls for a justifiable boycott by somebody," he said at the time. "Yet this language, as far as I see it, doesn’t provide for seeing for something like that."
Richard Goldberg, Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs, said the bill is modeled on similar efforts to divest from Iran and countries such as Sudan.
"There are evils we recognized and came together in a bipartisan fashion to do something about them. This is exactly in that vein," Goldberg said.
"If we work together on this, we can build on the success our state has had divesting in companies that were doing business in Sudan, from divesting from companies doing business in Iran, and now divesting from companies that engage in boycotts of Israel that have one purpose—and that is the delegitimization and political destruction of the only Jewish state on earth."