Editorial: Israel boycott bill not needed

A bill prohibiting the state of Kansas from awarding contracts to companies that participate in boycotts of Israel is unnecessary and should be defeated.

House members voted 116 to 9 Wednesday to approve House Bill 2409, which states that Kansas “shall not enter into a contract with an individual or company to acquire or dispose of services, supplies, information technology or construction, unless such individual or company submits a written certification that such individual or company is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

Such overwhelming support has more to do with the political expediency HB2409 provides rather than any problem it solves. It’s a chance for lawmakers to appear pro-Israel, whether or not the bill is needed, and by all accounts, it isn’t.

David Soffer, the Kansas Department of Commerce’s director of marketing and research, said this week that none of the state’s contractors or other businesses in Kansas are openly boycotting Israel.

Give Democratic state Rep. Boog Highberger, of Lawrence, credit for his willingness to call the bill what it is. Highberger said the bill is nothing more than a “political feel-good bill” and he was among the nine lawmakers to vote against it. Highberger also rightfully noted that a bill mandating that contracts be awarded based on speech is an infringement on the right to free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Advocates of the bill said it doesn’t prohibit free speech because companies can criticize Israel or participate in boycotts as long as they’re not seeking state contracts. Jacob Millner, Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst for the Israel Project told The Associated Press that the state shouldn’t “subsidize or reward discriminatory behavior.”

Kansas is one of 17 states pursuing such legislation in response to a boycott backed by pro-Palestinian freedom groups. Israeli supporters say the boycott is discriminatory.

But is House Bill 2409 really needed to ensure the state doesn’t discriminate against Israel in awarding state contracts? Wouldn’t approving the bill set a bad precedent for the future? Is the state prepared to legislate every time a new dispute or boycott emerges?

Here’s hoping state senators have the courage to do what’s right and vote down HB 2409.