The governor of Maryland signed an executive order on Monday barring the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel or the settlements in the West Bank. Republican Larry Hogan had previously attempted to pass such a policy through the state's legislator, but it had fallen short without even coming up for a vote.
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In a press conference, Hogan said that the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement uses "economic discrimination" against Israel. As a result of his order, contracts signed by the state of Maryland will include language that would make it clear that the company participating in the contract does not engage in boycotts against Israel or its settlements. Maryland's state pension funds will also divest from such companies, he added.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington expressed its support for Hogan's order, calling it "one more sign that he is a true friend to Israel and the Jewish community."
Yousef Munayyer of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a group that supports BDS efforts, called the governor's order "unfortunate" and said that it "flies in the face of the First Amendment." He added that "like the bills that recently made headlines in Texas and Kansas, as well as other bills across the United States, this executive order authorizes the state to discriminate against people based on their constitutionally protected political beliefs. Political boycotts are recognized as protected free expression."
Munayyer said that he wouldn't be surprised if the order would soon face legal challenges, just like the lawsuit led by the ACLU against the anti-BDS bill in Kansas.
Hogan's decision comes days after a national controversy broke over the implementation of a new anti-BDS law in Texas. In Dickinson, a town devastated by Hurricane Harvey in August, residents were asked to sign a form stating that they don't boycott Israel, as a precondition for receiving relief aid. The mayor of the town blamed the situation on the new bill.
The author of that bill, Phil King, a Republican who has served for two decades in the Texas House of Representatives, told Haaretz that the incident was a "misunderstanding" and that his law should not have affected the situation in Dickinson. He added that it was important to clarify that fact, so that future "misinterpretations" of the law could be avoided.
The American Jewish groups which oppose the BDS movement expressed concern over the incident. The head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, told Haaretz that the Dickinson episode shows that some of the new anti-BDS laws in state legislators eventually do more harm than good to Israel. The Anti Defamation League (ADL), which supported many of these laws, also said that it was important to consider how to avoid events like this in the future.