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State Lawmakers Consider Boycott Of Companies That Boycott Israel

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In response to the ongoing Israel-Palestinian Conflict, students and academics are calling for an economic boycott of Israel. Wednesday the Florida House will take up legislation that could target this boycott.

Some Florida lawmakers want to prevent the state from investing funds in companies that boycott Israel. Here’s one of the House sponsors Representative Ritch Workman of Melbourne.

“If the companies wish to exercise their free, constitutional right to free speech by joining the BDS Movement, that’s fine, we won’t prohibit that. We simply won’t take state tax dollars and let them use those tax dollars,” he said.

This bill is in response to another boycott, the BDS Movement. A push to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel, BDS supporters hope to pressure that country into addressing the plight of Palestinians. Laila Abdelaziz represents the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Palestinian civil society came together and enacted a nonviolent, grassroots, global call to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions of the state of Israel, and companies that are complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian people,” she said.

Boycotting is certainly not new. Boycotters demanded dignity in Birmingham, Alabama and equality in apartheid-era South Africa. Supporters of the BDS movement say they are exercising free speech, and pushing for social change. But some critics cast the boycotters as anti-Semitic. Here’s Representative Jared Moskovitz of Coral Springs.

“The intent is to delegitimize the state of Israel. See that’s been going on for a long time. Decades and decades and decades. And the arguments have just changed,” he said.

But which companies are being boycotted? The BDS movement targets Israeli exports like fresh produce and certain packaged foods. But the boycott extends to international companies as well, including Hewlett Packard, Volvo and American equipment manufacturer Caterpillar. BDS supporters say the companies are complicit in what they call human rights violations. Here’s Laila Abdelaziz again.

“For example the company Caterpillar which is an American company that’s used in the home demolitions of Palestinians in the West Bank. It has been removed from an ethical guidance index because of its involvement in its bulldozers and demolishing Palestinian homes,” Abdelaziz said.

Some lawmakers call this a line drawing problem: should companies be punished when people unfortunately use their products for ill? Here’s Representative Ben Albritton of Bartow.

“Boycotting Caterpillar because they happen to manufacture something that is purchased by somebody else, that may be purchased by somebody else, that may be used in a tragic killing like this, would not be fair to the manufacturer. Just like the clothes that you have on, can you guarantee me that somewhere in the supply chain of the production of those clothes that a child was not abused? Or child labor laws were not abused in maybe Taiwan or somewhere else?” Albritton said.

Still, BDS supporters defend the boycott as free speech. They say punishing or preventing that speech violates their 1st amendment rights. Representative Matt Gaetz of Shalimar voted for the bill in a recent committee hearing, but he worries the measure could set a dangerous precedent.

“There are elements of this bill that are very troubling to me, because of the precedent that this sets. Are we really going to be in the business as a government of punishing companies based upon their political views and their corporate conduct?” Gaetz asked.

The House is expected to take up the bill Wednesday. The Senate has already passed the measure unanimously.