Spurred in part by a spate of controversies over anti-Semitism in one of the state’s towns, Montana lawmakers advanced a bill over the weekend that pledges solidarity with Israel by refusing to do business with firms boycotting the Middle Eastern country.
Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen of Culbertson said his bill allows Montana to stand in solidarity with Israel. His bill “sends the message that we will not send our taxpayer dollars to companies which chose to participate in the boycotting and sanctioning of one of our nation’s strongest allies,” Knudson said.
The bill would direct the Montana Board of Investments to sever ties with companies supporting a pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel. It would also bar public agencies — including counties, cities and towns — from doing businesses with companies that don’t agree to certify in writing that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel.
Opponents said the bill is well-intentioned but a potential infringement on free speech. Some argued Montana should stay out of global politics.
Nevertheless, the House endorsed the measure 59–41 on preliminary vote. In doing so, Montana is seeking to join other states that have passed similar bills.
Knudsen said his interest in Israel predates the recent focus on hate groups in the town of Whitefish.
In recent weeks, a Jewish center in the tiny Montana community was the target of bomb threats. The town garnered widespread scrutiny in December when a neo-Nazi group began urging followers to “take action” against Whitefish residents who it believed were Jews.
“We’re all aware of what happened in Whitefish late last year. Some of that controversy is still going on. We have white supremacists who want to march in Whitefish, Montana, in our own home state,” Knudsen told members of the House chamber. He saw the bill as an opportunity, he said, to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people.
The proposal takes aim at the so-called BDS movement — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — that is seeking international support against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.