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Illinois passes historic anti-BDS bill

The Illinois General Assembly passed SB 1761 prohibiting state pension funds from investing in foreign companies that boycott Israel.

With strong bipartisan support and zero "no" votes, the Illinois General Assembly passed SB 1761 prohibiting state pension funds from investing in foreign companies that boycott Israel. Illinois is now the first state to pass binding legislation countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

SB 1761 passed the Illinois House on May 18, following the Senate's approval on April 22. Gov. Bruce Rauner immediately tweeted that he will sign the bill.

"In the face of growing number of public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe often taking the form of anti-Israel protests, I wanted to sponsor a bill with consequences for foreign companies that publicly declare an economic boycott of Israel," said State Sen. Ira Silverstein, chief sponsor in the Senate. "Working closely with Richard Goldberg, deputy chief of legislative affairs for Gov. Rauner, and with State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, chief House sponsor, we did just that with SB 1761."

Modeled on earlier state legislation that divested from Darfur and Iran  -- legislation that JUF was also centrally involved in - SB 1761 builds on Federal law prohibiting American companies from boycotting Israel and establishes the Illinois Investment Policy Board to ensure compliance with the state's three operative divestment laws (Darfur, Iran and now Israel).

"This legislation counters efforts to economically isolate Israel," said State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz. In response to critics who are concerned about the increased costs to the state, Feigenholtz explained, "the creation of the Illinois Investment Policy Board will actually reduce the costs by creating one consolidated list, making it less costly to monitor compliance."

"At this time of heightened partisanship in Washington and Springfield, it was inspiring to see legislators from all the caucuses -- Republican and Democratic, Black, Latino, and Downstate -- come together over one issue," said Suzanne Strassberger, JUF's Associate Vice President for Government Affairs, who worked closely with the sponsors in Springfield to move this legislation forward.

"Our friends in Israel should know that Illinois stands with them and we deeply value their statehood," said State Sen. Darien LaHood, an early co-sponsor of the bill.

State Rep. Art Turner said, "Israel and Illinois have always been strong partners. Investing in companies that seek to weaken Israel economically is against the broad interests of Illinois taxpayers."

Speaking in support of the bill during the House floor debate, State Rep. David Harris said, "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is hypocritical for the BDS proponents to criticize the intent behind this bill as an assault on their rights when they are advocating for universities to boycott Israel."

In addition to lobbying in Springfield, JUF helped mobilize voter outreach to legislators.

"Members of our community are passionate and regularly ask how they can fight BDS in a meaningful way," said David Golder, chair of JUF's Government Affairs Committee. "When they were presented with this opportunity to make a difference, they responded quickly to the action alerts with over 1,400 emails, phone calls, and electronic signing of witness slips."

"We were proud to be part of the effort to pass this historic anti-BDS bill," added Government Affairs Committee State Chair Steve Greenbaum, "and are pleased by the wide press coverage highlighting the unanimous support our General Assembly provided in the fight against those who seek to delegitimize the State of Israel."

Passage of anti-BDS legislation by the Illinois General Assembly drew extensive international and national coverage, and frequently highlighted JUF's strong advocacy on behalf of the bill. ( View a list of media outlets - with links - that covered the story.)

Also, the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by JUF Executive Vice President Jay Tcath , who was also interviewed by Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman for Gil's radio show in Israel.

"JUF played a critical role in the passage of this important legislation," said Richard Goldberg, Governor Rauner's deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs. "Gov. Rauner appreciates JUF's strong partnership in combatting BDS and anti-Semitism around the world."

"At the core of the BDS movement is a quest to delegitimize Israel as a sovereign, democratic and Jewish state," said JUF President Steven B. Nasatir. "This bipartisan legislation sends a strong message that Illinois will not tolerate such efforts. We anticipate that this legislation will become a model for similar action in many other states."

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