- Associated Press - Monday, October 23, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Monday blocking the state from awarding contracts to companies that support boycotts of Israel.

Hogan said requests for future bids on state contracts will include language certifying that a company has not engaged in a boycott of Israel. The governor, speaking with Jewish leaders by his side at a news conference, also said he is asking the state pension system to divest itself of companies who have participated in the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

BDS was founded in 2005 to protest Israel’s actions toward Palestinians by boycotting Israeli products and companies. Hogan said BDS runs counter to an economic relationship Maryland has sustained for decades with Israel.

“Boycotts based on religion, national origin, ethnicity or place of residence are discriminatory, and contracting with businesses that practice discrimination would make the state a passive participant in private sector commercial discrimination,” Hogan, a Republican, said.

Maryland is home to more than 30 Israeli businesses. The export relationship between Maryland and Israel reached a record high in 2015, with more than $145 million in export products, the Hogan administration said.

“The state of Israel is thankful for the steadfast support of Governor Hogan and the people of Maryland against those who wish to delegitimize it,” said Reuven Azar, Deputy Head of Mission at the Israeli Embassy, who attended the signing in Annapolis, Maryland.

Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, issued the first executive order in the country that forces state entities to drop investments linked to boycotts of Israel. State legislatures have been passing measures to stop boycotts. So far, 23 states have enacted laws or issued executive orders banning state business with companies that support boycotts.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said it was “profoundly disappointing” the governor acted by executive order, when legislation has failed to gain enough support in the General Assembly. He also noted that the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit this month against a law in Kansas that has similarities to Hogan’s executive order.

“Essentially what this means is that the law is authorizing the state to discriminate among contractors based on constitutionally protected activity, and this of course is unconstitutional,” Munayyer said.

State Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Del. Ben Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, sponsored legislation last year in Maryland aimed preventing companies that support boycotts of Israel from receiving state contracts, but the measures did not pass. They said they plan to submit legislation in next year’s session to strengthen the executive order. For example, Zirkin said lawmakers can require the state pension system to divest itself of companies that boycott Israel.

“This is a fantastic step, but that doesn’t relieve our responsibility to put this into statute,” Zirkin said.

Kramer said the governor’s order builds on a Declaration of Cooperation between Maryland and Israel from 1988 during then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer’s tenure. He noted that the declaration has been a catalyst for economic development between Maryland and Israel.

“This has been our stated policy since 1988, and what the governor did today was to validate the relationship that was started by Governor Schaefer in 1988 and was state policy,” Kramer said.

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