The Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 327 before adjourning for the year, joining the national trend of state legislatures taking action against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) and shepherded through the House by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), cleared the House on a 96-70 vote on Tuesday, March 22, in a weaker form than the Senate approved Feb. 26. With time running out on the final day of the session March 24, the Senate accepted the House version on a 41-8 vote.
(The legislature’s website lists the House vote as 95-71 with Rep. Michele Henson voting no, but the Stone Mountain Democrat, the only Jew in the House, said she corrected her vote to yes and has asked to have the House journal reflect that change, thus making the count 96-70. “My support for Israel is firm and unwavering,” she said.)
“Israel welcomes and appreciates the spirit and language of this bill, which is against boycotting Israel via the BDS movement,” said Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general to the Southeast. “The entire BDS movement is an anti-Semitic act for the delegitimization of Israel. BDS aims to take advantage of criticism against Israel and works against Israel’s very survival and well-being.”
According to Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the BDS movement and opposes state legislation in response, at least 14 state legislatures this year have considered bills or resolutions opposed to BDS.
The Israel Project, which supports such measures, said six other states have passed anti-BDS legislation, as opposed to resolutions, including neighboring Florida and South Carolina.
Georgia’s legislation is stronger than some proposals because it includes “Israeli-controlled territories.” But the bill awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature is weaker than Hill’s original version because the House State Properties Committee deleted the phrase “including all of its subdivisions and instrumentalities.”
Thus, the final legislation applies to state contracts only; Hill’s version would have covered local governments.
“I strongly opposed that change,” the senator said, but he chose to accept the House version rather than let the session end without passing something.
The bill requires any potential state vendor to certify in a contract worth at least $1,000 that it does not boycott Israel or companies that do business with Israel.
Hill emphasized that there is no investigative element: The contractor simply states that it is not a boycotter, with the potential for legal liability if that turns out to be untrue, as with any falsehood in a contract.
A strong backer of Israel because Genesis 12:3 states that those who support Israel will be blessed and those who oppose it will be cursed, Hill said he introduced the bill as a proactive move to cut off any chance for the BDS movement to make inroads into Georgia.
The Israel Project praised the legislation’s passage.
“The U.S.-Israel relationship is based on shared values, and opposing bigotry in all its forms is fundamental to the people of both nations,” said Jacob Millner, TIP’s Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst. “As I have seen over the past several months working on this effort, Georgians don’t want their state supporting the anti-Semitic BDS efforts, and that’s why the legislature voted to prevent this insidious movement from gaining a foothold here.”
Still, the vote in the House was much closer than in the Senate. Hill said the opposition to the bill reflected opposition to Israel and came after some pro-Palestinian speakers criticized the legislation during its House committee hearing.
The senator, who is unopposed for re-election, hopes to expand the measure next session.
“I won’t stop. I’m very happy and thankful that we got this portion passed with a tight vote in the House,” Hill said. “I expect the governor to be fully supportive and intend to come back to have it also apply to counties and municipalities.”
He also intends to try again to pass a constitutional amendment barring Georgia’s retirement funds from being invested in ways that benefit state sponsors of terrorism. Such a measure, designed to permanently restore an expired ban on financial dealings with Iran, stalled this session.