Gov. Larry Hogan has prohibited state agencies from contracting with companies and organizations aligned with a Palestinian-backed movement against Israel.
Diving into a hotly debated international issue, Hogan on Monday signed an executive order opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel (BDS), which has gained momentum in some parts of the country, worrying Jewish leaders who fear its repercussions on Israel’s image and economy.
Hogan made his announcement during a news conference at the State House in Annapolis to an audience that included Jewish communal leaders and lawmakers, describing the BDS movement as “economic discrimination.” The order was met with a thunderous round of applause from those who feel it will help protect the state’s economic interests with Israel.
“We have made it clear repeatedly that Maryland stands steadfast in solidarity with Israel, and we have made clear our strong opposition to the BDS movement,” Hogan said. “The goals of this BDS movement run completely counter to the strong economic relationship that Maryland has sustained for decades with our friends and partners in Israel.”
Hogan said requests for all future bids on state contracts will include language certifying that a company has not engaged in a boycott of Israel, and that if they fail to accept, “they would be terminated.”
The order is specifically aimed at the BDS movement, Hogan said, but it will also apply to any boycott targeting Israel. The move seems largely symbolic, as Hogan said he could not point out any current contractors involved in a boycott.
“I do not believe that there are any, but we are going to make sure that there aren’t,” Hogan said. “If there are, then they’ll be terminated.”
About two dozen states have adopted legislation to support Israel and prevent their governments and agencies from doing business with companies or individuals that endorse the boycotts. Similar bills have been introduced in both houses of the Maryland legislature in four of the last five years but have failed to pass.
On Monday, Hogan, a Republican, demonstrated his executive power, saying that “we finally got to the point where we felt this was the right thing to do.” For his part, Hogan has shown his support for Israel, including attending a weeklong trade mission to Israel last year with Jewish business leaders and advocacy organizations.
Supporters of the BDS movement, which was founded in 2005, say the goal of the campaign is to pressure Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and to further Palestinian independence. Opponents counter that the efforts are an attempt to deeply delegitimize or even eradicate Israel.
The Baltimore Jewish Council, which has lobbied in support of anti-BDS laws, praised Hogan for his commitment to maintain the state’s strong diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.
“This executive order stands up against companies that seek to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and negate the right of Israel to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people through discriminatory business practices,” the BJC wrote in a prepared statement. “It also reinforces the long established and rapidly growing business relationship between Maryland and the state of Israel.”
Detractors of anti-BDS legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom2Boycott in Maryland, have argued that such measures infringe on constitutionally protected forms of free speech.
Saqib Ali, a co-founder of Freedom2Boycott in Maryland and former state delegate, told the JT via email following the executive order that he feels it is “unconstitutional.” He predicted the ACLU would file — and win — a lawsuit challenging the order’s constitutionality.
“In the end, Gov. Hogan’s action — while deeply cynical — probably won’t amount to very much,” Ali said.
But Hogan adamantly denied any First Amendment concerns, saying supporters of the BDS movement “are asking people to discriminate against Israel. It’s clear. There’s no argument to the contrary that makes any sense.”
The order reflects legislation that was introduced by state Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) and Del. Ben Kramer (D-District 19) last session but failed to garner committee votes. The legislation was supported by Dels. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), Dana Stein (D-District 11), Dan Morhaim (D-District 11) and Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41), all of whom are Jewish.
Zirkin said he plans to introduce legislation in next year’s session to enhance the governor’s order by tackling state pension system investments. Hogan’s order requests the state pension system divest itself of companies that have participated in BDS.
”I applaud the governor on this important step, but our work is not done yet,” Zirkin said. “I was extremely disappointed that we didn’t get legislation passed last year to put this into statue, so that’s where our focus will turn now.”