As lobbyists, we spend long hours in the Capitol speaking on bills and acting as a resource to legislators unfamiliar with our issues. In essence, we’re paid to be experts on a narrow range of subjects. At the Montana Family Foundation, our subjects include life, marriage and family, religious freedom and school choice.
Sometimes, however, we catch wind of a hearing that has nothing to do with our normal range of issues, but has to do with a subject that simply interests us. At that point, we take off our lobbyist hat and appear before the committee to testify on behalf of ourselves as regular citizens. Case in point: Recently, House Bill 501 was heard in the House Stated Ministration Committee. The bill, sponsored by Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, would bar the State Board of Investments from investing any public dollars in companies that boycott the nation of Israel. Great idea, I thought. Israel is a staunch ally of the United States. It’s the only true democracy in the Middle East, and it’s surrounded by nations who have sworn to wipe it off the face of the earth. My wife and I travel to Israel regularly, so I thought I might be able to offer the committee some perspective.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world and even here in the United States. In the past two weeks, Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized in Philadelphia and St. Louis, and companies boycotting the nation of Israel only add fuel to the fire. It’s an international movement called BDS, which stands for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” and it’s alive and well in the United States and on U.S. college campuses. According to the main BDS website, it’s a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It’s really anti-Semitism with a politically correct face. And as I told the committee, when you hurt Israel, you actually hurt the Palestinian Arabs with full Israeli citizenship that make up 20% of Israel’s population. These are mainly Muslims, but it also includes Druze and Christians. Palestinian Arabs are members of the Israeli Parliament, and have been, since 1949. They’re in the upper echelons of Israel’s government, and they serve as officers and soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force. Yes, believe it or not, Muslims serve in the Israeli Army.
Those countries and companies that support BDS claim to want Israel to negotiate a permanent settlement agreement with the Palestinians, something Israel wants to do, but as is so often the case, the devil’s in the details. First and foremost, who is Israel supposed to negotiate with? The Palestinians are made up of competing factions, many of whom hate each other and would never allow the other faction to negotiate for them. From 2005 to 2007, Fata and Hamas fought a civil war that resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths and the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Until the Palestinians resolve their internal conflicts, there’s really no one for Israel to negotiate with.
In the meantime, I told the committee, Israel continues to be our closest ally and trading partner in the Middle East. We should do everything in our power to help them, not hurt them. In my opinion, House Bill 501 is a very small step, but a step in the right direction. The bill passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote, then passed the House on a nearly party-line vote with all Democrats voting “no.” Next stop: The Montana Senate. And it will be my privilege to testify again.