Minnesota legislators consider ban on boycotts of Israel
A bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives would ban companies that contract with the state from boycotting Israel. Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, introduced the bill Jan. 23, and the House's Government Operations and Elections Policy Com...
A bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives would ban companies that contract with the state from boycotting Israel.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, introduced the bill Jan. 23, and the House's Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee discussed the bill Tuesday morning.
Both in the hearing and in an interview Tuesday, Kresha equated boycotting Israel with discrimination against Jews as a whole. He said 16 other states passed similar language, and that it also was the policy of the Obama administration to not do business with companies that boycotted Israel.
"It's pretty widely accepted that discriminating against the Jewish people is not a practice the state of Minnesota should engage in," Kresha said in the interview.
The text of the bill defines discrimination as "refusals to deal, terminating business activities, or other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with" Israel or Israeli companies.
Asked in the interview whether there had ever been a state contractor who had participated in a boycott of Israel, Kresha did not know.
"I don't have any data on that either way, that would have to come out of the Department of Administration," he said.
As to whether the law applied to existing contracts, Kresha said there would need to be a review of the measure, but it would likely be limited to future contracts.
During the hearing, Rep. Michael Nelson, the ranking DFLer on the committee, sharply criticized the bill, House File 400. He said the bill was essentially pointless, in part because state officials can issue waivers for it if complying with it isn't practical.
"All the things you said about why you want to do this are probably good ideals to have, but with the exception you put on here, you could drive a truck through this bill," he said. "It basically makes (the bill) not worth the paper that it's written on."
Nelson added the bill was more along the lines of a "feel-good" ceremonial bill than one that had a practical impact.
Kresha explained he was asked to carry the bill, and he had a personal connection to its subject because he and his family took a pilgrimage to Israel five years ago. He also referenced "many of the things in our history about how the Jewish people have been treated."
"To your point, Rep. Nelson, this is a feel-good bill," Kresha said. "And once in awhile it's OK to vote, and feel good about what you do, and let your head hit the pillow tonight and say 'I did something right.'"
Kresha is Catholic and attended a Catholic high school.
For more than a half-hour, a string of opponents testified H.F. 400 would target a specific set of Minnesotans for their views on a foreign nation, would make more red tape for businesses that want to contract with the state and would violate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. Several people who identified themselves as Jewish testified against the bill, as well as people who identified themselves as Palestinian-American or a descendant of Palestinian-Americans.
However, the bill has a long list of sponsoring legislators, including Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt and the chair of the Government Operations Committee, Rep. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell. The companion Senate bill is authored by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, and sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.