States taking stand against BDS — it’s a good start

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Even as the movement to boycott and divest from Israel racks up more symbolic victories on college campuses, the pro-Israel pushback has been gathering steam.

One of the strongest examples is state legislatures passing measures to counteract the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Last week, Florida joined several other states that have approved anti-boycott measures, and this week an assemblyman from Orange County introduced two bills in Sacramento that together would ensure California does not succumb to anti-Israel bigotry.

AB 1551 and AB 1552 were introduced by Travis Allen (R- Huntington Beach). The first bill would require the state’s two enormous pension funds for public workers and schoolteachers to divest from companies that boycott Israel. The second is a broader measure that would bar the state from contracting with companies that engage in boycotts based on religion or nationality.

Like the string of BDS measures passed by college students, AB 1551 is largely symbolic, as not one American company of any stature has boycotted Israel to date. But the symbolism is a critical tool in this fight.

It is too early to know whether these bills will make it to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and whether he will sign them. However, last year he did sign a resolution passed unanimously by the Senate that equated the demonization of Israel with anti-Semitism. Notably, it was introduced by lawmakers who strongly oppose the BDS movement.

While we applaud Assemblyman Allen and hope his measures meet with broad support, the sad fact is that enacting anti-BDS laws does not solve the deeper problem.

It’s one thing to outlaw anti-Israel actions by fiat. It’s another to change hearts and minds. And that is the bigger long-term challenge Jewish communities face.

So long as Israel is singled out as one of the most egregious violators of human rights on the planet, which is the preposterous underlying premise of the BDS movement, efforts to delegitimize Israel will continue to gain currency. That could one day lead to a tipping point when Israel is no longer considered an ally of the United States. If that dark day should ever come, boycotts, divestment and even sanctions against the Jewish state might become the norm.

By all means, let us be vocal in our support when states take legal stands against BDS. At the same time, we should never become complacent or see such laws as sufficient response to overt or covert attacks on Israel.