In 2016, Senate candidate Al Novstrup said “the low point” of his memories of being a legislator was hearing a candidate propose a boycott of businesses based on political disagreement. “That’s breaking relationships,” said Novstrup with grave disdain.
Now in his eighteenth year in Pierre, I can understand that Senator Novstrup may have trouble remembering all the arguments of convenience he’s made. But if properly reminded of his 2016 campaign-trail lament, Senator Novstrup will likely find it highly inconvenient to criticize Governor Kristi Noem for signing an executive order breaking relationships with businesses that do not support her political position on Israel:
Governor Kristi Noem today signed an executive order that joins 27 other states in condemning Anti-Semitism and standing against the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The Executive Order directs state entities not to contract with businesses supporting the BDS campaign.
“Israel is one of our nation’s closest allies, and their success is critical to American national security,” said Noem. “Today, we reaffirm that South Dakota stands with Israel and will only contract with businesses who agree to fairly compete. Our state will not stand for any discrimination based on race or religion.”
…Noem’s Executive Order requires contractors and bidders to certify that they are not participating in the BDS movement when the subject of the state contract is related to the contractor’s boycott activities. Contractors and bidders who employ more than five people and are contracting for goods or services exceeding $100,000 must make the certification. The Order does not apply to individuals who choose to exercise a boycott by their own consumer purchases. Contractors and bidders should expect to see the certification requirement in new contracts or in responses to requests for proposal in the next 30 days [Governor Kristi Noem’s office, press release, 2020.01.14].
Now if someone out there is really promulgating hatred against Jews or exercising other forms of vile bigotry and oppression, I’m all for saying, “No juicy contracts for you, Hitler!” There’s no disputing that anti-Semitism is bad, but there’s a political component here where reasonable people can differ without being Nazis. One can recognize the right of Israel to exist and, at the same time, point out that Israel abuses human rights. Business who take that position may feel that economic pressure is a reasonable way to encourage Israel to pursue more humane policies in the territories it occupies.
That a state can punish private businesses for exercising free speech in a way that falls short of racism, sexism, or other discrimination is questionable. That a state can appeal to national security interests, which are determined by Congress and the White House, not the states, seems even more problematic. Suppose Minnesota’s Legislature and Governor decided that opposing Israel’s further expansion into the West Bank is in the national interest and starts denying state contracts to anyone who does business with Israel. (Uh oh—whom would Broadhead choose?) Can we really have states actively promoting different foreign policy goals, or are we on the verge of the Commerce Clause riding in and saying, “Whoa, Kristi!”?
We can be sure Senator Novstrup won’t be riding in to say that. As with all of his other conditional positions, boycotts are bad when they threaten his power and just fine when they don’t.