US lawmakers in Missouri have banned the State from doing business with companies that boycott Israel in one of the first bills passed by the Republican led House as soon as restrictions as a result of Covid-19 were lifted. The new bill, which was described as being "incredibly dangerous" and condemned for trampling on Americans' right to free speech through protests, was approved 95-40.
Companies will be required to sign a contract pledging not to boycott Israel in order to do business with Missouri. Contracts worth less than $100,000 or companies with fewer than ten employees will however not be subjected to the new measures.
Republican Representative Holly Rehder led the Senate bill through the House. She is reported saying that doing anything to support the boycott movement goes against Missouri's economic policies and would be "absurd".
Missouri has joined least 27 other states that have passed similar policies against the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Such anti-BDS bills have been dismissed as unconstitutional by American lawmakers. In January Prominent Senator Diane Feinstein even suggested that her colleagues in Congress were putting Israel's interest above that of America.
"I fail to see why this legislation is a priority during the government shutdown. The Senate has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and keep the government running—this bill does neither," Feinstein said in response to an anti-BDS bill that was being pushed through during a domestic crises.
Missouri's decision to pass a similar anti-BDS bill was met with consternation. Republican Representative Tony Lovasco was reported saying that awarding business contracts based on political opinions would be "incredibly dangerous". Criticising a government is not the same as criticising the people who live in that country, he said according to the Time of Israel.b
"I am incredibly critical of our government, for example," Lovasco said. "I'm not anti-American. I love this country. I don't want to be in a position where my criticism of our government's choices and how our government spends, or in my mind wastes our money, is going to result in my being placed in effectively a blacklist."
Critics say that the anti-BDS bills being passed across the US arer stripping American citizens of their First Amendment which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly and the right to petition. The contrast is striking when considered alongside the fact that Republican lawmakers have generally been very vocal about protecting the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arm despite the enormous cost to American lives. No similar consideration is given to protecting free speech over Israel.
In 2018 a primary school teacher in Texas was fired for refusing to sign an anti-BDS oath embedded in her employment contract. She was told that she could no longer work in the state's public schools after she "refused to sign an oath vowing that she 'does not' and 'will not' engage in a boycott of Israel or 'otherwise take any action that is intended to inflict economic harm [on Israel]".
The Pro-Israeli American Jewish Committee St. Louis Region, welcomed the move saying "the legislature has taken bold action to combat the insidious and hateful BDS movement."