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Opinion Maryland should reject investment discrimination

The State House in Annapolis. (Roberto Borea/Associated Press file photo)

Our representatives in Annapolis have a great opportunity this year. They will be voting on a bill to join more than a dozen other states that protect taxpayer money from being used to support discrimination against Israel. If they pass the proposed legislation and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signs it, it’ll show solidarity with a nation that’s important to Marylanders, too.

Beyond sharing our values, Israel is an important business partner for Maryland. More than two dozen Israeli companies have their U.S. headquarters in the state, and, in 2015, Maryland was Israel’s 19th largest trading partner. All told, we exported more than $145 million in products to the Jewish state that year, and every governor we’ve elected since 1992 has led a trade mission to Israel.

But the relationship between Israel and Maryland goes far, far deeper than trade. The people of our state share important values with the people of Israel. We value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We value the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press — especially today. Israel protects these freedoms, too.

Now, Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Dels. Shelly Hettleman, Ben Kramer and Sandy Rosenberg have introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent Maryland’s retirement and pension system from investing in companies that participate in a politically motivated boycott of Israel, otherwise known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Companies participating in this hateful effort to discriminate against the world’s only Jewish state would also be barred from winning state procurement contracts.

Maryland has a long history of standing up for what’s right and using its economic power to steer companies away from supporting evil, including in Iran and Sudan. This legislation, which simply ensures no taxpayer money goes to support companies that discriminate, is entirely consistent with our proud history of doing what’s right.  Thurgood Marshall, the Baltimorean who spent his career fighting for equality, said, “in recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”

Proponents of this wolf-in-sheep’s clothing effort claim that their actions are peaceful. But they’re wrong. Their actions completely ignore the world’s most horrific human rights abusers: North Korea, Iran, China and more, instead singling out Israel. This ultimately harms the chances for peace. Even the leadership of the Palestinians understands how counterproductive this campaign is. Back in 2013, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, “[W]e do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”

Opponents of this bill will argue — many already have — that the conditions this bill would impose on state funding represent an affront to free speech. They’re wrong. By simply ensuring that no taxpayer funding goes to discriminating companies, our elected officials are protecting our state money from abuse. While important, that effort has no impact on any individual’s right to protest, boycott or speak out in any way.

Fundamentally, the effort to isolate and demonize the Jewish state is an effort to discriminate against people because of who they are. That’s not what we stand for, and, as Marylanders, we should strongly support our elected officials as they stand up against such discrimination.

I commend Zirkin, Hettleman, Kramer and Rosenberg, and the many co-sponsors, for speaking loudly and clearly to reject discrimination in Maryland. Our taxes fund the business of this great state, and we should take care to ensure that we do not inadvertently support the scourge of discrimination. Efforts that aim to delegitimize Israel by singling it out for special contempt hurt our credibility and they make peace harder to achieve.