Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles City Council may have inadvertently approved a resolution that calls for punishing companies that avoid doing business with Israel to protest its policies towards Palestinians, National Lawyers Guild attorneys said Wednesday.

Council members waded into the contentious territory in June by signing off on a resolution supporting an earlier version of a state bill, AB 2844, that would have prohibited public agencies in California from giving contracts of $10,000 or more to businesses that boycott Israel.

National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Ameena Mirza Qazi said the council approved the resolution “without batting an eye,” despite the message it sends to activists who are critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The bill targets a campaign that urges divestment from, and boycotts and sanctions of Israel until it ends what activists say are human rights violations against Palestinians. The bill, however, says that the goal of targeting the boycotts is to protect trade relationships with the country.

State legislators later amended AB 2844 so it would only target businesses that boycott Israel for discriminatory reasons.

Qazi told City News Service that the change to the bill was made because of worries that punishing companies for boycotting Israel would be unconstitutional, and even though the author of the resolution, Councilman Bob Blumenfield, knew this, he did nothing to inform his colleagues of it before they voted.

In a letter sent this week to Council President Herb Wesson and other members of the City Council, Qazi and other attorneys accuse the city’s approval of the resolution as siding with the “Israeli lobby,” which “appears to have no problem in convincing our City Council to blindly support resolutions that eviscerates the First Amendment protections of Los Angeles residents.”

The attorneys allege the bill that the city went on record to support was an attempt to quash political protest against Israel, and while the city has no actual power over such issue, the move would create a “chilling effect” on free speech.

In their letter, the attorneys call on the council to withdraw its support for the resolution, and to “further acknowledge that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Representatives for Wesson, who chairs a committee dealing with intergovernmental resolutions, did not respond to a request for comment on the issue and the guild’s letter.

Blumenfield said he authored the resolution because he preferred the “original version” of AB 2844, which was “a little stronger.”

The movement to boycott Israel would hurt trade relationships that the city and state are attempting to build with Israel, Blumenfield told City News Service.

“The BDS movement … has been trying to delegitimize Israel and is trying to get the state to boycott, to not do business with companies that do business with Israel,” Blumenfield said.

“And in the state of California and the city of Los Angeles, we have active policies to do business with Israel.”

Blumenfield added that there is “widespread support for the bill, so the folks who are coming in (to oppose it) are pretty out of touch (on) where we are as a state and where we are as a city,” he said.

“There is a lot of mutual benefit particularly on clean tech and green tech that we’re already engaged in and that we should engage in further,” Blumenfield said.

A city legislative analysis of the resolution notes that the activists’ growing campaign — known as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, movement — is estimated by Israeli officials to cost their country about $1.4 billion a year.

A Rand study estimates that the movement would lead to a loss of about $47 billion over 10 years, mostly due to the movement gaining traction in Europe, according to city analysts.

–City News Service

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