Legislation calls on California to boycott Israels boycotters

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A bill that would require the state’s enormous pension funds to divest from any company that boycotts Israel has been introduced in the California Assembly.

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) introduced AB 1551, the California-Israel Commerce Protection Act, on Jan. 4. If enacted, the bill would require the state’s public workers and teachers pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, which total $500 billion in assets, to divest from companies that engage “in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm in, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by [Israel].”

Travis Allen

Allen told J. he wrote the bill in response to increased boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activity against Israel on college campuses, within mainstream churches and elsewhere.

“While these [BDS] efforts are largely symbolic, they represent a disturbing trend that does not represent the values of California citizens,” said Allen, who has visited Israel six times. “There’s a real desire on the part of many legislators to support the California-Israel relationship. We want a clear statement that California stands with Israel and with our trading partners.”

According to Allen, California last year exported more than $2.3 billion in goods to Israel, making it the state’s 18th largest export destination.

In that vein, Allen introduced another bill on Jan. 4, AB 1552, which would bar the state from contracting with businesses that engage in boycotts based on race, color, religion, gender or nationality. In a statement, Allen said, “No group better demonstrates this fact than the [BDS] movement, whose use of false, demonizing and delegitimizing propaganda against the State of Israel has become a pretext for the expression of anti-Jewish bigotry.”

Other states have moved to legislate against BDS, with Illinois and Florida being the latest. National Jewish groups have applauded the push, with the American Jewish Congress declaring in a press release, “Each state or institution that adopts anti-BDS legislation is aiding Israel and Jews worldwide in their mission to stand up against those who seek to delegitimize the Jewish state, which is the true aim of BDS.”

Allen’s bills now will work their way through the Assembly, gathering co-sponsors. The state Senate, too, will take them up. A spokesman for state Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, said this week that members of the caucus were to meet on Jan. 6 to discuss Allen’s legislation.

Once a combined bill is passed, it moves on to the governor’s desk for signature.

According to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Allen, a Christian, has attended numerous Jewish and pro-Israel events in recent months, including in Washington, D.C., and he supports a number of pro-Israel groups. He refers to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical names of the area that are often used by supporters of Israel who believe the West Bank is rightfully Israel’s.

“For me the decision to support an ally of ours that has been so mutually beneficial was an easy one,” Allen told J., “and absolutely in keeping with past actions of the California Legislature, as well as governors [of any party]. This is a completely bipartisan issue.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.