It’s called the BDS movement — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. It’s a form of protest that many universities have adopted to make a statement about issues plaguing Israel and Palestine. And Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner wants to halt that statement.
“I want to prohibit (BDS) at the state legislator level and say it is illegal and that way I can just shut down these conversations and everybody can focus on teaching class and educating rather than being a politically-correct weapon,” Baumgartner told KIRO Radio’s Jason and Burns.
Baumgartner is introducing a bill in Olympia that will make it illegal for universities to boycott Israel.
“I believe in free speech and the right to protest, so the students can have those discussions…” Baumgartner said. “So what I want is the legislature to pass a law saying this is not allowed. If students want to protest on campus and do what students do, that’s just fine. But we’ll settle the question for them, the adults in legislature … that way it won’t distract from the learning process which should be the focus in our universities.”
The BDS movement basically works like this: A university decides to remove any funding it contributes to investments tied to Israel. It’s a pro-Palestine movement, aimed at fighting colonial policies of Israel. It is modeled after similar efforts to fight South African apartheid years ago. It’s caught on at a lot of colleges across the country and the world.
“We want to nip in the bud some of these efforts that have our state universities used as politically-correct batons in an effort against Israel,” Baumgartner said. “In our state, we’ve seen some concerning movements at the University of Washington, Western Washington University and at Evergreen from some student groups to get those universities to divest or boycott Israel, rather than leave it up to their student boards…”
Sen. Baumgartner represents the 6th Legislative District — Spokane. What he proposes is a bill that would prohibit the boycotts of Israel. He said that he is concerned about any use of colleges in this way, but his bill specifically talks about the Israel issue because that is what is currently relevant.
“I don’t want universities to use state investment funds – that are there to generate more funding for the education of students — as diplomatic tools toward any country, ” Baumgartner said. “The issue specifically right now is with Israel … there is concern of antisemitism that is prevalent on some university campuses. If we shut this down by law, students can protest all they want, they have the right to do that. But when they get to the point of saying they won’t allow investment in companies in Israel or exchanges with universities in Tel Aviv, that’s where it needs to stop.”
And Baumgarnter argues that the bill does not run afoul of free speech laws. Legal experts from other countries, however, have disagreed on that free speech issue.
“It would be a good way to send a message from our state’s taxpayers that we don’t want our universities engaging in such boycotts of Israel, and they can focus on educating.