Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Monday that requires all firms with state contracts to promise they will not boycott Israel.
Hogan, surrounded by local and national Jewish leaders, said he wants to send a message that Maryland supports the Jewish state and the economic ties between the two regions.
The executive order is meant to thwart the international, Palestinian-led Boycott, ,Divestment and Sanctions movement, which urges companies to refuse to do business in Israel. The effort has gained only modest support in the United States.
Pro-Israel groups across the country have been pushing states to enact such anti-BDS measures, though the legality of some have been challenged on free-speech grounds.
Hogan said all future state contracts would require companies to certify they will not economically discriminate against Israel, and that if any current state contractors refuse to agree, "they would be terminated."
"There is no place in our state for boycotts and threats," Hogan said.
The order appears largely symbolic. The administration could not identify any current contractors engaged in a boycott.
"I don't believe that there are," Hogan said.
The order mirrors legislation introduced, but not passed, earlier this year. That bill also would have forbid the state from investing pension funds in any companies that boycott Israel.
More than 20 states have passed anti-BDS legislation or executive orders.
The BDS movement has gained support among Palestinian advocates, some mainstream Protestant groups and some left-leaning Jewish organizations that object to the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Supporters of Hogan's move says it echoes the state's "Declaration of Cooperation" signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1988 that promised mutual economic support between Israel and Maryland.
The order was enthusiastically embraced by Jewish leaders, who view the BDS movement as an effort to undermine the Jewish state.
It comes about a year before Hogan faces re-election in 2018.
"It is extremely important to the Jewish community to see a governor willing to stand up for Israel," said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "This is as strong a statement as a governor can make, and we are thrilled."
Critics of anti-BDS legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say that boycotts are a protected form of expression. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on Oct. 11 contending that a similar law in Kansas unconstitutionally violates the First Amendment.
In that case, a teacher who had personally chosen to boycott Israeli products in protest of the treatment of Palestinians was denied a state job training other math teachers.
In Texas last week, the city of Dickinson cited that state's anti-BDS law, and refused to give out Hurricane Harvey relief grants to residents who supported a boycott of Israel.
During an Annapolis news conference, Hogan dismissed First Amendment concerns, saying any boycott of Israel was discriminatory on its face.
"They're asking people to discriminate against Israel," Hogan said of the BDS movement. "There's no argument to the contrary that makes any sense."
The executive order, which Hogan signed immediately after announcing his plans, is not the first time Maryland has withheld state money from companies engaged in international disputes.
In 2012, the General Assembly passed a law that said companies investing $20 million or more in Iran's energy sector would be barred from doing business with Maryland. The state identified 22 firms disqualified from Maryland contracts, but none of those firms was working with the state.
Alan S. Ronkin, regional director for the AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, said people are free to say what they want about Israel. But, he added, "the state is free to do business with companies that reflect its values."
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County and Del. Benjamin F. Kramer of Montgomery County introduced the anti-BDS legislation that failed to pass this year. The men, both Democrats and Jewish, said Monday the were evaluating whether to introduce a bill next year to bar the state from investing pension money in companies participating in the BDS movement.
Zirkin said companies that target Israel are also hurting the economic fortunes of Maryland, and the state has a right to protect its interests.
"Everyone has a right to an opinion, including the state of Maryland."