Pa. Senate votes to block funding for schools that withdraw from Israel

The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday voted to withhold state funding from colleges and universities that divest from or boycott Israeli companies, despite concerns raised by First Amendment free speech advocates.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) after protesters at multiple Pennsylvania universities called on their schools to defund companies with ties to Israel.

Under the bill, schools receiving state funds will not be able to divest from investments in Israel or Israeli companies for political reasons, but will be able to divest from such investments for strictly fiduciary reasons.

Supporters of the bill say the boycott of the Jewish state threatens a geopolitical ally and is potentially anti-Semitic.

“Anti-Semitism in any form cannot be tolerated,” said Phillips-Hill, the bill’s sponsor. “These protesters seek to threaten, intimidate, and harass the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and colleges across the state into withdrawing their investments in Israel.”

Protests erupted on college campuses across the country, calling on Israel to end its war on the militant Hamas. On October 7, Hamas militants crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,100 people and kidnapping about 250. Israel responded by declaring war. The estimated death toll in Gaza is about 35,000.

The The vote was 41-7 because the bill was bipartisan.

Sen. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery) spoke out against the bill.

“I want to be clear: I stand with Israel and its right to exist,” Haywood said, adding that he supports 2016 legislation banning the state from hiring contractors involved in boycotting Israel.

“We don’t have to agree with all of their First Amendment speech to protect it,” Haywood added. He continued by saying he supports efforts to “encourage peace.”

Bye. Senate committee votes to block funding for universities that withdraw from or boycott Israel

Haywood is not alone in his concerns about the bill’s impact on schools’ First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also opposes the legislation.

“Political boycotts have always been lawful,” ACLU attorney Solomon Furious Worlds told the Capital-Star earlier this week. “Any violation of this law is suspect.”

Santarsiero, a co-sponsor of the bill, rejected the decision.

“This does not violate anyone’s free speech rights,” Santarsiero said. “Students, professors, administrators and anyone else will be able to peacefully protest and speak out about Israel or any other topic they choose.”

After the Senate passed the bill, state Treasurer Stacy Garrity expressed support for the legislation in a press release.

“Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East, and it is important that Pennsylvania shows them our steadfast support,” Garrity wrote. Following the October 7 attack, Garrity invested $20 million of state funds in Israeli bonds, bringing the state’s total investment to $55 million.

The bill would also prohibit boycotts or divestments from Israel of a number of state pension funds controlled by Garrity’s office.

The legislation also has the support of Gov. Josh Shapiro, but will have to pass the Democratic-controlled House before it reaches his desk for his signature.

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