Bill Stifles Legitimate Criticism of Israel

Open Letter to Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson:

Thank you for meeting with us to hear our concerns about your co-authorship of AB2844, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples bill.

This bill mandates the state Attorney General publish a blacklist of businesses, large and small, that choose to boycott Israel because of its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — or that choose to boycott any other country that the U.S. recognizes. The bill’s ultimate aim is to bar all state and local government entities from entering into contracts with businesses that are on the blacklist.

The original bill was drafted by pro-Israel lobbyists in an effort to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel and its oppressive and discriminatory policies. We believe that this bill is in conflict with our essential First Amendment rights to peacefully protest the policies of Israel that we cannot condone. It is also in conflict with our proud progressive tradition and California’s history of opposing injustice through economic boycotts, as in the farmworkers boycott, and economic sanctions against South Africa.

Due to public pressure, the Assembly bill has been modified slightly and renamed. Nevertheless, the essential framework of the bill is still designed to intimidate and punish companies that choose to refrain from doing business with Israel for political reasons, and this is wrong. Furthermore, there is no reliable way to predict the significant costs entailed in litigating supposed violations, to say nothing of the repressive business climate that it would create. It would result in a wasteful and inappropriate use of our state funds.

We urge you to not only resist any attempts to amend the bill and restore its more egregious provisions, but more importantly to remove your name as cosponsor of the Senate’s version of the bill and vote against it.

We appreciate that you are under intense pressure from special interest groups that hope to silence criticism of Israel by misusing the agency of the state, but we hope you will be the strong, independent legislator we know you to be and resist these efforts. As your constituents learn about this bill, they recognize that it puts Israel’s demands ahead of our First Amendment rights to dissent and the needs of California citizens and businesses. These priorities are simply wrong.

Stand up for our freedom to dissent, and vote no on AB2844.

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