What started as a bill that would have penalized any Maryland state university involved in an academic boycott of Israel is now just several sentences in support of Israel in the newly adopted state budget.
The Maryland 2015 fiscal year budget, which was adopted April 6, includes a statement of strong support for Israel along with condemnation of the American Studies Association’s boycott of the Jewish state. No separate law or financial penalties are included.
Originally, it called for a 3 percent penalty against any Maryland public college that used public money to send professors and other staff to conferences hosted by organizations that support a boycott of any country that has a declaration of cooperation with Maryland, a list of nations that includes Israel. It did not specifically mention Israel or the ASA boycott.
The original proposals in both the Senate and House of Delegates pitted those who believed in the importance of academic freedom and wanted professors to be able to attend conferences against those who wanted to come out strongly against any boycott of Israel.
From the start, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington had fought against the need for the law or penalties, which Ron Halber, JCRC executive director, called “overreaching and counterproductive.”
“The JCRC had it right from the beginning. We knew the legislation was flawed,” he said, noting all the discussions and proposals “turned allies into adversaries.”
The Baltimore Jewish Council supported the legislation, believing it is important to take a strong stand against any attempt to delegitimize Israel. During discussions, the BJC had agreed to strip the financial penalties from the bill.
But the JCRC, as well as other groups, continued to work against the proposed legislation. As JCRC vice president Michael Friedman noted during testimony before the House of Delegates, while the ASA’s resolution to boycott Israel is “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic,” the proposed law “is offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“Not a single university in the United States has agreed to participate in the boycott.”