Politics

Kentucky has become one of more than two dozen states to ban state resources from going towards companies that boycott Israeli products and services.

Last week, Gov. Matt Bevin signed an executive order requiring state contractors to promise that they don’t participate in the Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as “BDS.”

BDS advocates say the movement is a peaceful way to support the Palestinian cause and oppose Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

During a presentation with Israeli officials in the State Capitol last week, Bevin called the BDS movement anti-Semitic.

“This BDS movement seems innocuous enough, seems that it may not be worthy of sounding an alarm. But it’s repugnant, it’s morally reprehensible it truly is,” Bevin said.

The executive order will require companies and individuals doing business with the state to sign a written pledge promising that they aren’t participating in the boycott.

Similar policies have been approved in 25 other states, but federal courts have struck down measures in Arizona and Kansas on free speech grounds.

Dima Khalidi, executive director of advocacy group Palestine Legal, said that Bevin is conflating criticism of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism.

“We cannot abide by such an attempt to undermine people who are fighting for human rights,” Khalidi said. “The fact is that we have a right to criticize a nation-state’s policy against a people.”

A federal judge recently blocked an Arizona law that compelled state contractors to submit a written pledge that they weren’t involved in an Israeli boycott.

A similar measure was blocked in Kansas earlier this year, but state lawmakers rewrote the law to get around the lawsuit.

During the ceremonial signing of the executive order, Bevin said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally lobbied for the policy during a meeting over the summer.

“While we were having that conversation he was talking to me about the significance of this and asking me if I would do the very thing that we are here to do today,” Bevin said.

The boycott issue has taken on new significance this year after the Trump administration controversially moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Bevin tweeted support for that move.

”The world witnessed a historic moment today … Thankful for the leadership shown by @POTUS’ administration in honoring this long-standing promise between the United States and Israel.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.