In early 2018, activists in Massachusetts successfully fended off proposed legislation that targeted the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. However, the same bill has now been resurrected and it will have to be fought all over again.
Bill H.1685 (or the Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts) was filed in 2017 by State Representatives Steve Howitt (R) and Paul McMurtry (D), but it was drafted by the pro-Israel Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). It would have prohibited state agencies from entering into contracts of over $10,000 with companies if the company boycotted any organization based on its origin. Although the legislation didn’t specifically mention the BDS movement, its intentions were not concealed.
“This is a proud moment where the legislature can stand together in support of Israel” declared Howitt at the time. “This bill clarifies to businesses that either support BDS or who boycott Israeli-owned businesses and products that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not engage in commerce with them. I look forward to its quick passage.”
Over 100 Massachusetts faith and civil rights organizations formed a coalition called Freedom to Boycott to oppose the bill. Members from these groups, as well as constitutional lawyers and the ACLU of Massachusetts, testified against the legislation at its hearing in summer 2017. The bill was ultimately referred to “study” by an oversight committee, effectively killing its chances of passing during that session.
However, Howitt has now reintroduced the same exact bill, with the same exact constitutional concerns. It’s now Bill H. 2719 and this time he’s filing with Democratic State Rep. Paul Brodeur. “It’s one of these things where someone just clicks a button and refiles,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Boston’s Jill Charney told Mondoweiss. Charney said that this version of the bill doesn’t seem to have the same level of backing from local pro-Israel groups like the JCRC, but that JVP and other activists are taking it quite seriously nonetheless.
The hearing for this version of the bill will take place on November 19 and local activists will once again testify over the potential dangers of such legislation.