If you think a boycott is wrong, should you boycott those who engage in it? That’s up to consumers and investors to decide – but for governments, the answer is no.

The question arises in the context of the movement to punish and isolate Israel – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill last week barring the state’s pension fund from investing in any company that supports the BDS movement. Illinois and Florida also have passed such laws, and other states have banned these companies from receiving state contracts.

Anti-BDS laws are an understandable reaction to a movement that is wrong on both moral and geopolitical grounds. Israel is a democratic nation in a region dominated by autocrats, and it is committed to protecting freedoms – including religious expression and equal rights for women – that its neighbors do not recognize. Israel is also America’s strongest regional ally in the fight against terrorist groups that strike at liberal democracies wherever they find them. Trying to wage war on its people through economic deprivation is as foolish as it is dangerous.

But the best way to combat and marginalize wrong-headed political movements such as BDS is through popular opposition, not state law. Pension fund trustees, along with state legislators and governors, have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. When political considerations displace financial ones in selecting investments or awarding contracts, taxpayers lose.

Attempting to discriminate against companies because of their political views or policies will become increasingly problematic as more and more companies take positions on controversial issues. Consider a company that supports expanding abortion rights or gay rights. Should a conservative legislature prohibit that company from winning state business?

By all means, oppose the BDS movement vociferously. But do it without putting public dollars at stake.

filed under: