In a 65-4 vote, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed legislation prohibiting the state from contracting with companies that participate in boycotts of allies and trade partners of the United States—most notably, Israel.
HB 7736 passed the Rhode Island House on June 16 and received unanimous support two days later in the state’s Senate. Governor Gina Raimondo is expected to sign the measure later this week.
Rhode Island’s measure against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was introduced by State Rep. Mia Ackerman (D), the House’s deputy majority leader, and received overwhelming bipartisan support in one of the country’s most Democrat-heavy states.
“Rhode Island is at a crossroads and we need to reinvigorate our economy. This is especially true of new industries such as high-tech, science and medical and other knowledge-based industry,” said Ackerman. “Today’s interdependent global economy requires that trade policy be developed both at the national and state level. One of our greatest trading allies is the State of Israel, the only democratic, non-discriminatory country in the Middle East.”
Bracha Stuart, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the pro-Israel education and advocacy group StandWithUs, told the Haym Salomon Center, “This measure sends a clear message that the State of Rhode Island will not support those that participate in campaigns fueled by intolerance and anti-Semitism.”
Stuart called Israel an “advantageous partner” for Rhode Island amid efforts to “jumpstart the state’s economy.” In fact, the state recently announced that it has scheduled a week-long business mission to Israel for early December.
Since 1996, Rhode Island’s economy has benefited to the tune of more than $120 million in exports to Israel. In 2015, the state saw an increase just shy of 19 percent from the previous fiscal year, as exports from Rhode Island to the Jewish state surpassed $10 million.
“This new anti-discrimination/boycott law is a matter of sound economic, public, and foreign policy,” said Stuart, who thanked the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) for “their partnership that led to passage of this crucial legislation.”
IAF, a legal resource for state legislators on anti-boycott bills, worked closely with the Rhode Island bill’s sponsors and Israel advocacy groups to make sure the legislation did not violate the First Amendment. IAF U.S. Director Joseph Sabag said, “This law does not restrain a group from boycotting Israel or advocating for the boycotting of Israel. It does not penalize any private party’s exercise of free speech.”