Rhode Island Adopts a Loyalty Oath to Israel
Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Want to do business with the State of Rhode Island? You will now be required to sign a loyalty oath to the country of Israel first.
A bill, H7736, passed by the Assembly in June and signed by Governor Gina Raimondo on July 14, is ostensibly about anti-discrimination in state contracting. Its primary purpose, however, is to prohibit Rhode Islanders from boycotting business with Israel. It is an effort to counter the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international effort to put pressure on the Israeli government to end its nearly 50 year occupation of Palestine.
The new law, sponsored by Representative Mia Ackerman (Cumberland), requires Rhode Island companies who want to do business with the State to sign a statement that they are not boycotting any upstanding member of the World Trade Organization. Israel is not actually mentioned by name. However, the bill is similar to other anti-BDS legislation being promoted around the country by right-leaning pro-Israel groups.
Representative Ackerman’s statements on the House floor and in interviews make clear that the law is primarily about shielding Israel from criticism. In an interview with The Algemeiner, a conservative Jewish newspaper, on June 21, she described it as a pro-active step against the BDS movement, “which we want to get out in front of.” She said that once she became aware of the BDS movement a few years ago, “I knew I had to do something.” Ackerman added that for her “it’s very personal” since she has family in Israel. “It is very important to me that on the world stage we show our support for Israel.”
Ackerman’s office did not respond to repeated requests for information about how many companies in Rhode Island are currently boycotting Israel. That’s because there aren’t any.
Because there is no actual boycott issue in Rhode Island, the practical impact of this law is minimal. Instead, it is effectively a loyalty oath to Israel. It addresses a problem that does not really exist, but at the same time requires companies to sign a statement that they are not boycotting any trade partners (read Israel) of the United States. It sets up a litmus test of support for a foreign government.
Loyalty oaths were widely condemned after the McCarthy era’s anti-Communist witch-hunts. They are also deeply inconsistent with the values on which Roger Williams founded Rhode Island including freedom of thought, belief and speech.
Boycotts are a legitimate tool of peaceful social change, as witnessed by their use in the U.S. civil rights movement, in the movement to boycott grapes organized by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s to support migrant workers' rights, and in the anti-South Africa divestment movement. The Supreme Court has ruled that boycotts "to effect political, social and economic change" are protected by the First Amendment.
Rhode Island will now be asking companies who want state contracts to sign statements that inhibit their Constitutionally-protected right to engage in political activity. The state will also incur enforcement costs. This legislation will probably eventually be tested in court either in Rhode Island or elsewhere. A recent analysis by the Harvard Law Review concluded that a similar law in South Carolina—on which the Rhode Island law is modeled---likely violates First Amendment protections on free speech. It noted the real point of the law: “State legislatures are not seeking to defend a valued ally from a fearsome, rapidly growing boycott campaign. They are announcing their disdain for a marginal political movement whose goals they strenuously oppose.”
It is unfortunate that the state of Roger Williams has now joined this anti-democratic trend.
Related Slideshow: 10 Ways Rhode Island Changed America
Rhode Island was the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain.
The smallest state in the union showed their revolutionary side by setting fire to the Gaspée, a British customs schooner.
American Industrial Revolution
Pawtucket is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.
The Slater Mill, built in 1793 on the banks of the Blackstone River, was the first fully mechanized cotton-spinning mill in America.
Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams as a haven for religious freedom.
Touro Synagogue, established in 1763, is the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America.
George Michael Cohan, born on July 3, 1878, in Providence.
A composer, lyricist, and playwright, Cohan is best known for writing "The Yankee Doodle Boy", "You're a Grand Old Flag", and "Over There".
Rhode Island was the birthplace and home of painter Gilbert Stuart.
In his lifetime, Stuart produced portraits of over 1,000 people, including the first six Presidents of the United States.
Brown University is the third oldest institution of higher education in New England.
This year, the university celebrated 250 years of academic excellence.
Hasbro Inc., whose corporate headquarters are located in Pawtucket, is the third largest toy company in the world.
The best known toys of Hasbro include G.I Joe, My Little Pony, and Mr. Potato Head.
Nathanael Greene Herreshoff was the founder of Herreshoff Manufacturing.
Herreshoff revolutionized yacht design, and produced a succession of undefeated America's Cup defenders between 1893-1920.
Herreshoff's skill earned him the nickname of "the Wizard of Bristol."
Horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft was born in Providence in 1890 and lived the majority of his life here.
Lovecraft 's last residence in Providence before his death was used as inspiration in his short story, "The Haunter of the Dark".
- NEW: Governor Postpones Israel Trip to Focus on Pension Reform
- Mattiello, Paiva Weed Lead Rhode Island Delegation Trip to Israel
- Former MD. Governor Ehrlich to Talk Israel, Foreign Policy in Prov. June 30
- 1,200 New Englanders to Gather in Boston in Support of Israel Defense Forces
- Famed Israeli Graphic Artist Oded Ezer Coming to RISD
- Brown Conference: New Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Peace?
- Chafee to Head up Trade Mission to Israel