JCRC is Deeply Disappointed by Decision to Refer S.1689/H.1685 “To Study”

JCRC is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Massachusetts Legislature’s State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (SARO) Committee to refer S.1689/H.1685 “to study.” This bipartisan legislation, An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts, is intended to ensure that those seeking to do business with the state affirm that they are in compliance with all Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws and that they do not refuse to do business with others based on immutable characteristics such as race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Much of the debate around this bill has taken place in the shadow of a national and state-by-state debate over so-called “anti-BDS” bills. Such bills are a vehicle for states to reject efforts to deny Israel’s right to exist. This noxious campaign uses economic, cultural, and academic warfare in an attempt to isolate Israelis and challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Even as JCRC supports efforts to reject the unjust assault on Israel’s legitimacy, we take note and emphasize again that the bill, as filed here in Massachusetts, does not shut down all boycott activity. Still, we understand from our allies that the national debate on this matter, along with a recent federal court ruling in Kansas, has had a chilling effect on the ability of people here in Massachusetts to consider this bill based on its face-value merits and impact.

S.1689/H.1685 merely allows the state to choose business partners who are in line with its own values. While opponents of the bill are entitled to their own views and are free to engage in boycotts based on national origin, race, or sexual orientation, the state, when acting as a market participant, does not have to subsidize those views. The Commonwealth is free to use its economic influence to send a message of its own disagreement. The so-called Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign, when applied to Israeli nationals based solely on their national origin, is illustrative of the danger that groups can cloak themselves in the guise of a political boycott to unfairly target others simply based on who they are.

We take note that only days ago New York Governor Cuomo announced an executive order, largely paralleling the language of the Massachusetts bill, to prevent New York state from doing business with companies that promote or tolerate discrimination based on immutable characteristics. That order was embraced by many of the same actors who have opposed the Massachusetts bill. It does not escape our attention that some of the same people who vigorously urge government action to protect individuals based on immutable characteristics when those individuals are transgender (a view that we affirmatively support) are so vigorously opposed to the same action when some of those - such as us - promoting it are expressly concerned about discrimination against Israeli-Americans. We are left, once again, to wonder why an incremental step to fight discrimination in all its forms should draw such vociferous opposition by some on the radical fringe here in our Commonwealth.

Over the past two years, legislatures around the country and the world have taken up a range of approaches for rejecting BDS and those who wish to engage in discriminatory economic warfare against Israelis and Israeli-Americans.  JCRC again applauds the Massachusetts legislature for their unanimous expression, in October 2015, for the U.S.-Israel relationship and also for their rejection at that time of this campaign of delegitimization. That action, along with numerous others over the past several years, convey a clear message of support from our legislative leadership and reflects a deep bipartisan coalition in both houses. Our legislators have stated with one voice that effective engagement is the key to positive outcomes in the region.

At this time we want to particularly thank Senator Cynthia Creem and Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt for their leadership in sponsoring S.1689/H.1685, as well as Senate Committee Chairman Walter Timilty, the many co-sponsors including nearly one-third of the legislature, and the members of the coalition in support of this bill. Despite the noise and the mischaracterizations, these individuals stood steadfast in support of the notion that the Commonwealth should reject discriminatory conduct in all its forms. To them, we are grateful.

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