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Illinois governor to sign anti-BDS bill

Bill to divest state pensions from companies that support calls to boycott Israel would be first of its kind

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner intends to sign a bill that requires state pension funds to divest from companies that support a growing international movement to pressure Israel through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

"Governor Rauner looks forward to signing the bill to make Illinois the first state in America to divest from companies that boycott Israel," the governor’s office confirmed to Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

The bill, SB1761, passed unchallenged in the State House of Representatives on Monday, and had previously received similar bipartisan support in the Senate.

The BDS movement, officially launched in 2005 by 171 Palestinian civil society groups promoting nonviolent resistance to the occupation, has gained momentum in recent years — with artistsunions and churches all disassociating with Israel. The movement is loosely modeled after a strategy employed by activists in the 1970s and 1980s to try to end Apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS movement aims to marginalize Israel within the international community until it ceases its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is illegal under international law.

Supporters of Israel, however, have charged that the movement is anti-Semitic and that advocates bear ill will toward the state that goes beyond the occupation. Some U.S. lawmakers have taken steps to stifle the movement.

Legislatures in Indiana and Tennessee have passed similar anti-BDS laws, but, unlike the Illinois bill, they are nonbinding, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported

In March, federal lawmakers introduced the “Boycott Our Enemies not Israel Act” into the House of Representatives. That bill calls for federal contractors to certify that they do not have “the intent to comply with or support a boycott against Israel, refuses to do business with or in Israel, with any Israeli national or resident, or with a business concern organized under Israeli law.”

Steven Nasatir, president of the Chicago-based Jewish United Fund, hailed Illinois’ passage of the anti-BDS bill a success.

“At the core of the BDS movement is a quest to delegitimize Israel as a sovereign, democratic and Jewish state,” Nasatir said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation sends a strong message that Illinois will not tolerate such efforts.”

The measure, however, does not enjoy widespread support.

Hatem Abudayyeh, an Illinois resident and member of U.S. Palestinian Community Network, said he was “extremely concerned” with the bill that is “ideological in nature and politicizes the pension system.”

The state “should not be in the business of attacking corporations that may want to take a stand in opposition to Israel's growing human rights abuses against Palestinians,” Abudayyeh told Al Jazeera.

Some have expressed concern over the bill's legality and the precedent it may send to the state's constituents. Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), told Al Jazeera, "Illinois legislators are ignoring decades of case law that recognizes boycotts as constitutionally-protected political speech."

The bill "is telling people what the state believes is acceptable discourse and political activity, thereby dissuading viewpoints that are contrary to that, whether they're expressed by individuals or by companies through the ethical business decisions they make," Khalidi said.

While Nasatir expressed hope that the bill would serve as a “model for similar action in many other states,” Abudayyeh said its passing indicates that the “pro-Israel forces realize that they are losing.”

“For the first time in many years, Israel and its crimes against the Palestinian people are being publicized broadly,” he said.

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