On Thursday February 8, 2017, supporters of the right to boycott scored a major victory, when a Massachusetts anti-boycott bill was sent to “study.” This move by the legislature’s Joint State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (SARO) means the bill will not be sent to the full legislative body to be voted on this session.
The bill was one of several recent anti-boycott bills in Massachusetts. In 2016, the legislature considered–and rejected–a bill that would have created a blacklist of companies that boycott Israel. Groups on the blacklist would have been denied state contracts. After this bill raised considerable outrage, its supporters tried a new tactic in 2017. The new bill, “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts,” made no reference to Israel and instead appeared to merely reiterate already existing civil rights protections. However, supporters of the bill had stated in public that it was meant to target the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). The BDS movement seeks to use nonviolent boycotts to achieve Palestinian human rights.
Given that the bill offered no new civil rights protections and was intended to chill constitutionally protected political speech a number of civil rights and civil liberties groups opposed it. Defending Rights & Dissent was joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in sending a letter opposing the bill. The ACLU of Massachusetts opposed the bill for similar reasons.
The defeat of this bill was not a foregone conclusion. It was the result of the tireless work done by the Freedom to Boycott Massachusetts Coalition. Groups like Freedom to Boycott Massachusetts prove that grassroots activists have the power to push back against anti-boycott bills and win.