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House passes bill banning Israel boycotts among state contractors

Ron Kresha

A bipartisan majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday that would ban state contractors from boycotting Israel.

The House voted 98-28 to approve a bill authored by Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. The vote followed a spirited and emotionally tinged debate that touched on the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as the recent spate of anti-Semitism on American soil.

The bill would counteract the efforts of the "Boycott, Divest, Sanctions" movement. No vendors with contracts with the state of Minnesota currently boycott Israel, the state Department of Administration said.

Kresha said the bill was the result of "our very, very best effort to get agreement from all the parties" that had a stake in it.

The most strident voices either in support or opposition to the bill came from DFL legislators. Several of those who spoke were Jewish or had Jewish ancestry.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, put forward an amendment that would have deleted Kresha's bill text and simply added nationality to the list of issues on which contractors can't discriminate. Hornstein said his amendment included Kresha's idea but made it more inclusive.

"If you're Israeli you're covered, if you're Palestinian you're covered, if you're Canadian, you're covered," Hornstein said.

Hornstein later withdrew his amendment, as it did not go through committee.

Hornstein's parents were Holocaust survivors and most of his extended family lives in Israel. He talked about his Israeli cousins, who moved from their home because of incessant mortar and rocket fire landing among them.

The Middle East is complex and nuanced—but Kresha's bill wasn't, Hornstein said, adding the bill, House File 400, needed more work and more discussion.

"Get this right, because it needs to be gotten right," he said.

However, Hornstein said he would support the bill.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she heard people call Kresha's proposal a "feel-good" bill. She called it a "feel-bad bill."

Normally she was private about her religion but that day she felt forced to disclose it, Liebling said. Liebling said she was a proud Jew who prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Her father fought the Nazis in World War II, and she loved that a Jewish state exists, although Israeli policies sometimes cause opposition in America. She said she was sometimes glad her father wasn't alive to see the uptick in anti-Semitism, but she also said that "criticism of Israel is not, by itself, anti-Semitism."

It was not up to Minnesota to protect Israel, but it was up to them to protect the rights of free speech and free association, Liebling said. The bill infringed on those, she said.

Kresha in his closing remarks talked about how the days of debate gained him friends both among DFL legislators and the Jewish community.

"Nothing in this bill should challenge anybody's experience or values," he said.

He introduced the bill because the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement "needs to stop," adding it constituted "economic terrorism."

The Senate version of the bill is authored by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

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