The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill that bars public entities from entering into a contract with a company that is boycotting Israel.

Missouri House floor

The “Anti-Discrimination Against Israel Act” is a response to protests against Israeli treatment of Palestinians.  If passed into law, the legislation would prevent state and local governments and publicly owned operations from conducting business with companies that boycott Israel.

Supporters of the bill from House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, contend it helps to preserve Missouri’s strong economic ties to Israel and note that 21 other states have passed similar legislation.

Backers of the measure range from the pro-business Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the socially-conservative Concerned Women for America of Missouri.

Opponents contend that boycotting is a protected free speech right.  They claim the bill violates the U.S. Constitution and note that lawsuits have been filed in other states that have passed similar legislation, including in Kansas where a federal judge blocked enforcement of such a law this year.

Proponents of the bill counter the opposition argument that boycotts are protected free speech by noting the measure does not violate First Amendment rights because it only applies to companies, not individuals.  The Kansas legislation included individuals.

They also say the proposal is intended to support Israel against an international movement to destroy it and contend Israel is unique because it’s been singled out and targeted because it’s a Jewish state.

Opponents say the boycott and sanctions movement is not targeting the Jewish faith but is a protest against Israel’s aggressive policies toward Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank.  Opposition is led by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill, which passed out of committee by an 11-1 margin, needs one more House vote before moving to the Senate.  A companion proposal in the upper chamber from Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, has failed to reach the Senate floor.

The proposal does not apply to business contracts under $10,000.

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