Legislative Upset in Missouri as Win Scored for the Right to Boycott in Support of Palestinian Rights

A five-month grassroots campaign led by human rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri celebrated a win on Friday, May 18, 2018, when the Missouri legislature failed to pass legislation that would have denied state contracts worth over $10,000 to businesses and organizations boycotting Israel over its subjugation and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Legislative Upset in Missouri as Win Scored for the Right to Boycott in Support of Palestinian Rights

SB 849 stalled in March when staunch civil liberties advocate GOP Sen. Rob Schaaf filibustered the bill, introducing amendments that would add every country in the world to ensure Israel was not singled out for special protective treatment.

A five-month grassroots campaign led by human rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri celebrated a win on Friday, May 18, 2018, when the Missouri legislature failed to pass legislation that would have denied state contracts worth over $10,000 to businesses and organizations boycotting Israel over its subjugation and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

The legislation was widely predicted to pass, enjoying widespread support by right-wing Missouri legislators with House Bill 2179 sponsored by GOP Speaker of the House Todd Richardson; and Senate Bill (SB) 849 co-sponsored by Majority Floor Leader, Republican Sen. Mike Kehoe, and Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp. Disgraced Gov. Eric Greitens helped prompt the legislative push, following his November trip to Israel, where he met with officials keen to punish supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

A growing number of celebrities, governments, and organizations worldwide are engaging in BDS in protest of Israel’s separate and unequal system of discrimination against Palestinians, which marked 70 years on May 15.

SB 849 stalled in March when staunch civil liberties advocate GOP Sen. Rob Schaaf filibustered the bill, introducing amendments that would add every country in the world to ensure Israel was not singled out for special protective treatment. Schaaf went through the list of nations alphabetically, describing in great detail exports and possible concerns with their policies. Two hours later, when he reached the Bahamas, Sen. Kehoe withdrew the bill from debate.

In a significant political upset, nearly 80% of Democratic House members present voted against HB 2179. Reps. Peter Merideth, Brandon Ellington, Bruce Franks, Jr. (known for his leadership in protests against police brutality, including in the Ferguson uprisings), and others spoke strongly against the legislation, decrying Israel’s violence against Palestinians. Though the bill passed through the overwhelmingly conservative House, SB 849 was never brought back for Senate floor debate after Sen. Schaaf’s filibuster.

Israel has been widely criticized for war crimes and most recently killing more than 100 people and injuring thousands more as they demonstrated in Gaza for their internationally recognized refugee rights. Amidst the killings, the Trump administration began moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem last week, officially recognizing and actively participating in Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in violation of international law.

Citizens from across Missouri, representing Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine, Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, and others in the Missouri Right to Boycott Coalition, lobbied lawmakers for months and testified against the bills during committee hearings.

Meanwhile, nongovernmental groups, including the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Anti- Defamation League (ADL), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) joined right-wing legislators and Sen. Schupp in advocating for the bills, sparking criticism from progressive Jewish Missourians, including St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace.

The Massachusetts Right to Boycott Coalition scored a win against similar legislation in February. On constitutional grounds, the ACLU has legally challenged anti-boycott legislation in Kansas -- where a federal judge temporarily blocked the law -- as well as in Arizona. A legal memo from the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, Palestine Legal, and other legal and human rights organizations accused the Missouri legislation of imposing a “McCarthyite political litmus test” and lifted up the important role of boycotts throughout history from the Civil Rights Movement to divestment from apartheid South Africa.