Let’s tell the truth about Illinois’ anti-boycott law

A guest op-ed in the  January 3, 2022 issue of Crain’s Chicago Business mischaracterizes Illinois’ anti-BDS Law.

I know because I wrote it.

Illinois has a storied history of ensuring that our public pension investments align with our state’s public policy objectives. For example, Illinois law prevents public pension funds from investing in companies that assist Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, companies that contract to shelter detained migrant children, companies that seek to avoid Illinois taxes by moving their headquarters offshore, and in the past companies that did business with apartheid South Africa.  In addition, in 2015, the Illinois House and Senate unanimously passed, and Governor Rauner signed a law that prevents Illinois state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

Israel is the singular democracy in the Middle East that has historically been a consistent ally to the United States. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the United States, Illinois, and Israel that Israel remains a strong, vibrant, and healthy democracy.  Boycotts of Israel, like Ben & Jerry’s/Unilever, are intended to harm and weaken Israel.

The law (40 ILCS 5/1-110.16) states that “’Boycott Israel’ means engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”  The July 2021 announcement from Ben & Jerry’s/Unilever violated this Illinois law. The Illinois Investment Policy Board is tasked with ensuring an investment of public money adheres to the law, which is precisely what the members did. They are not empowered to make policy decisions.

The authors imply in their statement that this was some clandestine meeting held in the dark behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room. This could not be farther from the truth. The policy board complied with timely posting requirements, complied with the open meetings act, and heard from 14 Illinoisans during the public comment session. Their besmirching the integrity of the appointed members of the  Illinois Investment Policy Board is wholly inappropriate and an example of what’s wrong with today’s political discourse.

Moreover, the tacked-on reference to Morningstar misstates the facts. Morningstar recently authorized an independent external investigation to determine whether or not a recent business acquisition is inappropriately slapping companies with negative ratings because they do business with or in Israel. Morningstar launched this investigation because, in a letter to Morningstar, the Illinois Investment Policy Board asked the company to establish whether it was boycotting Israel, as defined by Illinois law.  Hopefully, Morningstar’s internal investigation is thorough and transparent and demonstrates that they are not boycotting Israel, or if they are, that they will take immediate corrective action.

The Illinois law is well thought out and carefully crafted.  No one’s free speech is curtailed; no one is prevented from eating Cherry Garcia, and Ben & Jerry’s is free to boycott whomever they wish.


Sara Feigenholtz
State Senator | 6th District