WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Illinois state agency named 11 companies barred from doing business with the state for boycotting Israel or its settlements, the first such designation by an official U.S. body.
A number of the entities on the list approved Friday by the Illinois Investment Policy board have pulled money from Israeli businesses that operate in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, but have not boycotted Israel within its 1967 lines. At least two of the entities have said their disinvestment from Israel in recent years was based on commercial, not political, calculations.
The Illinois law passed last year explicitly bars dealing with companies that boycott Israeli operations in territories controlled by Israel.
“Today’s actions were truly historic and will lead the way for the dozens of other states following Illinois’ lead,” a senior official in the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who championed the bipartisan legislation, told JTA on Friday.
More than 20 states are considering bills or have passed laws targeting companies that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Most of these penalize only companies that boycott Israel, although nine states, like Illinois, have passed or are considering passing laws that extend the penalties to entities that boycott Israeli businesses operating in the West Bank.
Included on the Illinois list is ASN Bank of the Netherlands, which disinvested from a company building Jerusalem’s light rail but remains invested in at least one company, Electrocomponents of Britain, which operates inside Israel’s 1967 borders. Also included is Karsten Farms, a South African importer that divested from an Israeli dates exporter that had among its suppliers a West Bank farm.
ASN is one of a number of European banks that advertise operating on ethical principles. Another such bank, Danske Bank of Denmark, refuses to invest in companies that operate in the West Bank, and also lists as banned for investment an Israeli security equipment manufacturer, Elbit. However, Danske Bank lists a number of non-Israeli security equipment manufacturers it targets for not comporting with its values.
Another entity listed, Nordea, a Swedish bank, investigated several years ago whether to disinvest from partner banks in Israel that operated in the West Bank, but ultimately decided that Nordea’s investments were separate from the Israeli banks’ West Bank activity and remained partnered with the Israeli banks.
Two of the entities — GS4, a major British security firm, and Dexia Bank of Belgium — have sold off Israeli affiliates. In both cases, while BDS activists claimed victories, the companies said the sell-offs were part of broader divestments made strictly for commercial reasons. Dexia, for instance, was hard hit by the 2008 financial crisis, and forced by the French and Belgian governments to sell some of its holdings.