House passes bill by 131-0 margin
By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP
Israel-Texas relations got a bit stronger last week.
After several months of hard work by community members and organizations across the state, Texas legislators have reached the final steps in the lawmaking process that would make it illegal for the use of state public funds for companies that are involved with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is a global campaign attempting to increase political and economic pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestment of investments and international sanctions. One of BDS’ target goals is delegitimizing the State of Israel.
“This legislation serves to protect the bond and preserve the relationship between Israelis and Texans,” said Jesse Stock, Texas coordinator for the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, in his testimony on behalf of the legislation. “Israeli technology has saved American lives on the battlefield, it powers our cellphones and computers, it puts food on our dinner tables, and it protects us right here in Texas from enemies abroad.”
Texas would be the 20th state to create such a law against BDS and Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the legislation within the coming weeks. House Bill 89 passed by a 131-0 margin last Thursday. This came roughly a month after the companion bill, Senate Bill 29, was passed by a 25-4 margin.
“It’s been pretty clear that our legislators place a priority on Texas relationship with Israel,” Joel Schwitzer, from the AJC Dallas Regional Chapter, said. “It’s a very significant partner with Texas, the relationship has always been quite strong, and Texas stood with its ally and made it very clear they plan to continue to do so with this action.”
In the house there were 12 members who were present but didn’t vote (including the speaker, who typically votes only in case of a tie on an issue), while seven representatives were absent on the day of the vote.
“This is really rewarding,” said Daniel J. Prescott, the board chair for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. “In a time in the work where virtually nothing has complete support, the support for Israel and this bill passed without a vote against it in the House. It really sends a message how strong this bill and law will be.”
The bill now goes back to the state Senate for reconciliation and then heads to Abbott for final approval.
“This isn’t a surprise,” Bradley Laye, president & CEO for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said. “We have been working to fight BDS on several levels, not just in the legislature. This is a strong statement that we are making the right strides and the state of Texas is going to stand with us on this.”
Back in early November it was announced that State Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford), would sponsor the House bill, while State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) would sponsor and introduce it in the Senate.
At the time King declared it was “going to be a very bipartisan bill,” and added, “We’re going to get a lot of Democrat support as well as Republicans. This sends a strong statement that Texas stands with its friends in Israel.”
He was right, and it rallied members of the Jewish community together during the process.
In mid-November the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas hosted a meeting with representatives and leaders from more than a dozen local Jewish organizations. They discussed and laid out plans to promote and support the bill, and it created a united front all working toward one goal.
Over the following months hundreds of phone calls, emails, and even faxes were sent to legislators in support of the bill and twice in February a large contingency of people, representing several groups, made the trip to Austin to support and rally for the bill.
“This was a great moment for our community,” Prescott said. “Everyone came together across so many organizations. In a time when there are so many differing opinions on things, this was something that everyone was on board for and really showed how important it was to stand with Israel.”
The final steps for the bill to become a law lie within the legislature, but the community leaders and those who have worked to promote the bill are encouraging people to thank their representatives for their support of Israel and representing the views of their constituents.
“That’s what I would suggest to anyone who wants to continue helping with the process,” Schwitzer said. “The legislators listened to the people and confirmed this was an important issue and something Texas needed to do. So if someone is looking to do more, send an email or call to thank your representative and let them know we appreciated their efforts.”
There is also hope that Texas could set an example for other states. Throughout the process several people referred to Texas as an “example state” and one that could help push similar legislation in other states.