The Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) will not pursue a bill against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in this year’s Maryland General Assembly session.
“We spent a few weeks researching it and there’s no problem now,” BJC executive director Art Abramson said. “Given everything else going on, budget issues … there’s no sense in fighting a battle that’s not needed at the moment.”
The bill would have prevented pension divestment, making it so state pensions could not be invested in companies that support the BDS movement, and would have changed the state’s procurement contract process so that companies who support BDS could not earn state contracts. Both measures are similar to laws enacted relating to companies who do business with Iran.
BJC officials researched both of those issues and found that while there is pressure on some companies to divest, none have. Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the BJC, said one small electrical workers union passed a statement in support of BDS, but it is not clear if it has divested.
“It’s something we’re really tracking, where unions are, because if a larger union were to divest, it would have an effect on the state,” she said. “We’re just working really hard to talk to different elected officials about it and continuing to have conversations.”
Abramson said he believes the bill would have passed this year because of support from legislators and partnering with the JCRC, but didn’t think it would pass it there was no way to show a problem exists.
“I am pleasantly surprised given a lot of rhetoric in this state about BDS that that there isn’t a problem,” he said. “The council and our counterparts in D.C. will certainly get into this as soon as and if it becomes a problem.”
The other issue is that BDS supporters in Maryland argue that the bill goes against free speech.
“It’s got nothing to do with this, and I did not want this to become a free speech issue,” Abramson said.
The BJC is continuing to speak with legislators about the BDS movement and monitoring the movement in Maryland and on Maryland’s college campuses.