New Georgia law revives Israel oath for large state contracts

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a measure into law Monday that requires businesses with significant state contracts to sign an oath pledging not to boycott Israel.

The governor signed the legislation months after a federal judge struck down a similar 2016 law requiring state contractors to sign the oath on grounds that it violated free speech rights. That challenge was brought by a documentary filmmaker who refused to sign the pledge.

The new law, House Bill 383, raises the threshold for the anti-boycott pledge to state contracts worth more than $100,000. It also applies only to companies with five or more employees, limiting the number of firms affected by the mandate.

“In a deeper sense this reaffirms our support for a friend and a crucial ally in Israel,” Kemp said at a signing ceremony, before adding: “As your governor, I will never allow the state of Georgia to invest in a company that supports boycotts, divesting or sanctions against Israel.”

The legislation aims to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that protests Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians. Georgia was among the first of dozens of states to enact such a law, which largely passed along party lines in the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2016.

Among the opponents was Stacey Abrams, then the top Democrat in the House, who called herself an “unwavering ally” to the Jewish community but said she voted against the measure because it could set a precedent that could deter advocacy movements from taking root.

The revised measure was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support and the backing of state Rep. Mike Wilensky, a Dunwoody Democrat who is the only Jewish member of the state Legislature.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Israel’s consul general to the southeast U.S., said the law is designed to fight a movement that is “simply an age-old hatred agenda demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people.”

It was adopted despite opposition from the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which urged supporters to ask Kemp to veto the “last-ditch attempt” by state lawmakers to revive the pledge.

The opponents pointed out that U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen ruled that the anti-boycott pledge that the documentarian was asked to sign was “no different than requiring a person to espouse certain political beliefs or to engage in certain political associations.”

Supporters of the revamped measure say it reflects the state’s right to choose which companies it will contract with, but that it doesn’t penalize companies that choose not to do business with Israel for economic reasons.

“We will see what the federal courts have to say about this,” said state Rep. John Carson, a Marietta Republican who authored the measure. “But we feel it strikes the right balance between protecting our interests with the state of Israel and also allowing free speech.”