Prohibiting Free Speech: Not in My Idaho

Did you know that there is an Anti-Boycott Against Israel law in Idaho? 

The Anti-Boycott Against Israel Act prohibits public entities from doing business with a company (which includes non-profits) and its affiliates engaged in a boycott against Israel and/or territories under its control. The law prohibits these companies from any declaration of a boycott against Israel or actions “intended to discriminate against, inflict economic harm, or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with the state of Israel or territories under its control, or persons or entities doing business in the state of Israel or territories under its control.” This means that the law could go so far as to prohibit government employees from staying at a particular major hotel while traveling for work if the company declares a boycott or acts in a way that is deemed to be a boycott against Israel. 

Here are some facts to consider: according to a 2020 Pew Research Center study conducted on Jewish people in the US, 28% of them believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing a “poor” job, while 26% say he is doing a “fair” job. The study found that higher levels of education amongst Jewish people in the US correlated to more frequent “poor” or “fair” ratings of Netanyahu. 63% of Jewish people in the US think peace between Israel and Palestine is ideally possible, which is actually higher than the 55% of people in the US who say they believe the same. This all goes to show that critiquing the state of Israel, which is about 74% Jewish, is not inherently discriminatory of Jewish people because many Jewish people critique it themselves. This begs the question: Should our legislators really be imposing laws upon us that protect other foreign entities as they deem fit? Who decides what constitutes a “boycott”? Our legislature has a history of overreach. How does this law even benefit Idaho?

Some consider the actions of Israel, especially recently, to be genocidal, while others condemn any critique of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic. Some base their opinions on information from independent sources, while others rely on major news outlets. Critique, especially when it encourages us to adhere to more humane policies, is not the same thing as persecution. Many of us critique our own governments and institutions in the hopes that we can all make positive progress as a society.

No matter where you land, this law is an infringement of free speech, and as an Idahoan, I am against it. Let’s not forget that we also have our own pressing matters to attend to in the Idaho legislature. Education, healthcare, fair wages, and the housing crisis are a few. Whatever the reason may be, companies have a right, in a non-discriminatory way, to express their opinion and make calls to action in whatever way they deem ethical to do business without having their venture infringed upon.

Cecile Pérez is a mental health advocate and professional, and the Legislative District 32 chair for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.