Michigan’s state legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder deserve high praise for acting earlier this month to make our state the 16th to condemn and outlaw discrimination against Israel and Israelis. By doing so, our elected leaders not only rejected anti-Israel boycotts, they strengthened the trade and other relationships between the Jewish State and the Wolverine State, and struck a blow against anti-Israel activity wherever it crops up, including on college campuses.
Driven by its principled sponsors, Reps. Al Pscholka, Robert Wittenberg, Mike Callton, Jeremy Moss and Andy Schor, HB 5821 and 5822 prohibit the state from contracting with a business that boycotts a “strategic partner” of the United States — Israel. Gov. Snyder expressed his support by signing them into law.
This action affirms Michigan’s economic, business and cultural relationship with Israel by prohibiting the state from doing business with entities that are involved in an anti-Israel boycott. Most Michigan residents — including the vast majority of the Jewish community — are staunchly opposed to anti-Israel measures, and strongly support the value and importance of Michigan’s relationship with Israel. The bills received bipartisan support in the legislature. We appreciate the work of the sponsors and of Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, Sen. Jim Marleau and Rep. Brad Jacobsen in shepherding the bills through the legislative process.
Throughout the fall 2016 legislative session, the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, Jewish Federation and other community partners strongly advocated for the passage of this legislation. Support for the bills was consistently conveyed in meetings with several state legislators as well as with the governor’s office. Ultimately, the success of this effort is due to a long-term initiative by our community leaders to develop relationships with our legislators in Lansing.
That effort began 16 years ago, when Federation leaders Dennis Bernard and Evan Weiner created the Jewish Federation’s Government Relations Oversight Committee to strengthen our community’s relationship with the state legislature and the executive branch. The effort has included study missions to Israel for the governor and key legislators, Lansing Day receptions, and numerous meetings at the state capitol and in Metro Detroit. This investment led to the development of deep professional and personal relationships with our state’s leaders.
As a result, JCRC/AJC was ready to act quickly and effectively to advance the anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) legislation. Bernard personally led the initiative and called upon important relationships with key legislators and the governor to accelerate the effort.
In addition, Dennis’ son, Aaron Bernard, a past president of TAMID, the University of Michigan student organization that offers experiential learning through business activities in Israel and promotes relationships with the Jewish State, helped to advance the bills by developing talking points for conveying our message to state leaders and by delivering testimony when the bills were in committee.
It is especially notable that the legislation was brought through the legislature by members who had visited Israel through Federation-sponsored trips and who often work closely with our community on a range of issues.
Now state law sends a strong statement that Michigan stands with Israel, a stand that has proved to be mutually beneficial in both dollars and in deed. Former Govs. John Engler and Jennifer Granholm, and Gov. Rick Snyder have all visited the Jewish State and signed trade agreements with Israel. As a result, Michigan businesses conduct hundreds of millions of dollars a year in exports and commerce with Israel.
These bills will protect Michigan’s economy from efforts to restrict that trade, efforts promoted by BDS supporters. These initiatives seek to sever the economic ties between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors and trading partners throughout the world. Therefore, they are counterproductive to finding a long-term, lasting peace. Economic boycotts of Israel are destructive measures that will not lead to peace. In fact, they actually ensure fewer jobs are available for Palestinians. If you are pro-Palestinian, pro-Israel and pro-peace, then you should be anti-BDS.
The law will also discourage efforts on our state-funded college campuses by those who wish our schools to divest from Israel and sever academic relationships with Israeli institutions of higher learning. Pro-Israel student activists on campus can be proud that state law is on their side as they defend Israel in the face of its detractors.
Thanks to the determination of Bernard, the JCRC/AJC coordinating effort and the input of national advocacy organizations that have pursued this effort in other states, along with the support of our state legislators and our governor, the state of Michigan now officially opposes efforts to isolate Israel and its economy. The already unbreakable bond between Michigan and the State of Israel has been fortified through this principled stand.
Israel remains America’s strongest ally in the Middle East and the only one that shares our values of freedom of the press, gender equality, religious freedom and other pillars of a democracy. JCRC/AJC supports and defends Israel, and continues to combat BDS efforts and anti-Israel activity in Metro Detroit and beyond. We welcome those who wish to join us in these efforts.
David Kurzmann is executive director of the JCRC/AJC.