Pennsylvania lawmakers push to block state funding for boycotting Israel

In the wake of numerous “Divest from Israel” protests, Pennsylvania state lawmakers are pushing to take state funding away from any university that supports the movement.

Democratic State Rep. Steve Santarsiero’s bill to cut funding from schools actively boycotting or supporting divesting from Israel already has 39 sponsors and wide bipartisan support.

According to Santarsiero, there is a “disturbing trend on college campuses across the United States” that instigates these boycotts despite the trend stemming “from a false argument that Israel is engaged in discriminatory practices.”

While other states like Tennessee and Indiana have resolutions in place to condemn schools that encourage the boycotts, Pennsylvania representatives want to take the policy a step further and actually punish universities.

“The State of Israel is the only dependable, democratic ally of the United States in the Middle East,” Santarsiero said in a news conference early in May. “As such, it is in the interest of this commonwealth to promote America’s close ties with Israel.”

Bill co-sponsor State Rep. Dan Frankel (D) commended Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh for proactively opposing boycotts of Israeli academic institutions.

Some Pennsylvania residents have raised concerns that the bill would stifle freedom of speech. According to Santarsiero, though, the bill sends a strong message to the governing bodies of the state’s institutions—it does not prevent students from voicing their opinions.

"Pennsylvanians do not want their public funds used to discriminate against a staunch American ally and long-standing democracy such as Israel," co-sponsor and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel (D) said in a press release obtained by Campus Reform.

Last week, U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz called for ending federal funding to universities that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Santarsiero attended Tufts University, Penn State Law School, and earned his teaching certificate from Holy Family University.

The Illinois legislature recently passed a bill that would prohibit companies participating in Israel boycotts from receiving state pension funds. The bill is expected to go to the Illinois House for a vote soon.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BethanySalgado