Kansas House bill would boycott companies that boycott Israel

The House of Representatives chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? The Kansas House took an unusual detour into international politics Tuesday when it advanced a bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with any company or individual engaged in a boycott against Israel.

Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner, said several other states have passed similar measures in response to a movement led by Palestinian groups urging “boycotts, divestment and sanctions,” also known as the BDS movement.

“Make no mistake about it, BDS is economic warfare against America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” Sutton said. “But Israel is also a significant trading partner with Kansas.”

House Bill 2409 would define a “boycott” as any refusal to engage in commercial relations with people and entities engaged in business with Israel and Israeli-controlled territories.

In addition to requiring all contractors to certify that they are not engaged in any such boycott, the state would also be prohibited from adopting any policy for purchasing or investment that would effectively require or induce a boycott of the Israeli government or a person conducting business in Israel.

Kansas has, on rare occasions, adopted policies prohibiting the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System from investing in firms that do business in politically troubled areas. In 2007, for example, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill prohibiting KPERS investments in companies that did business in Sudan.

During a committee hearing, representatives from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, testified in favor of the bill, as did two Kansas rabbis.

On the House floor, however, Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, was the only person to speak against the bill.

“When we get to the point of requiring certificates of political correctness from the people we do business with, we’re on a very slippery slope,” Highberger said. “It’s a bad idea.”

The bill advanced on an unrecorded voice vote, with only a handful of “no” votes coming from the Democrats’ side of the chamber. A final vote to pass the bill and send it to the Senate is expected Wednesday.