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California state passes bill barring Israel’s boycott by businesses

This file photo taken on June 05, 2015 shows Palestinians walking past a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem, calling to boycott Israeli products coming from illegal settlements. (AFP)

The US state of California has passed a bill that would penalize companies engaged in boycotting the Israeli regime, prompting pro-Palestinian activists to slam the legislation as a breach of free speech.

The AB 2844 bill, which was passed this week in the California State Assembly by a 69-1 vote and must be signed or vetoed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown by the end of the month, would prevent companies participating in the Israeli boycott from receiving state contracts worth $100,000 or more, RT reported Saturday.

The bill requires companies seeking these lucrative contracts “to certify under penalty of perjury that they are not boycotting Israel,” said US-based investigative journalist Max Blumenthal.

While the AB 2844 claims that “it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used to do business with or support discriminatory actions against any individuals,” and would also include banning companies with “any policy that they have against any sovereign nation or peoples recognized by the government of the United States” from receiving these contracts, the only entity listed in the version of the bill that passed is the Israeli regime.

"The bottom line is that the state should not subsidize discrimination in any form," claimed the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom from Santa Monica on the Assembly floor.

Opponents of AB 2844, however, insist that it unfairly targets the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Moreover, US-based rights group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also censured the bill as a “state blacklist” of entities wishing to engage in a legal activity.

“AB 2844 in essence proposes an official state blacklist of persons and corporations that engage in lawful politically-motivated speech and association,” said ACLU Legislative Director Kevin Baker in a letter to Bloom.

Baker further noted that the bill may potentially prove more detrimental to the state projects than helpful adding, “the bill does not evaluate or give preference to contractors that are fiscally sound; in fact, it specifically disqualifies businesses that may be the most economically responsible bidder simply because the company participates in a boycott of Israel.”

File photo of a US demonstration is support of the BDS campaign

The controversial legislation, however, could also have potential ramifications for the US beyond punishing American businesses that support the BDS movement.

“If you look at what’s happening in France,” Blumenthal said, “where individual citizens who campaigned for the boycott movement are being brought to trial and how that was used as a pilot program along with banning protests against Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip for the emergency regulations, which have now barred protests for labor rights.”

Blumenthal further observed that the bill has simply been “rewritten to restate California civil rights law, but to apply to Israel.”

Similar legislative measures against the BDS movement have also been passed in other US states with large Jewish populations such as New Jersey and New York.

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