Federal court blocks anti-BDS law in Arizona

Citing First Amendment violations, a federal judge in Arizona on Thursday blocked enforcement of the state’s 2016 law that aims to thwart the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

The law required state officials to produce a blacklist of companies, organizations and other entities that are banned from state contracts because of their alleged support for boycotting Israel.

Arizona is now the second state, after Kansas, where Israel and its supporters have been dealt a major legal blow to their efforts to muzzle Americans who support Palestinian rights.

“A restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott,” US District Court Judge Diane J. Humetewa wrote in Thursday’s order blocking the Arizona law.

“The type of collective action targeted by the [law] specifically implicates the rights of assembly and association that Americans and Arizonans use ‘to bring about political, social and economic change,’” the judge added.

A federal court heard arguments on the law in May.

Earlier this year, a federal judge blocked a state law in Kansas, citing similar concerns over free speech rights.

The Kansas law was amended last Spring so that it does not apply to individuals, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said that it remains unconstitutional.

“No business”

Thursday’s ruling “supports the notion that the government has no business telling people – even people who contract with the state – what causes they can or can’t support,” said Kathy Brody, legal director of the ACLU’s Arizona chapter.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the law last December, calling for it to be struck down for violating the First Amendment.

The suit was filed on behalf of an attorney who contracts with the government to provide legal advice to incarcerated persons in Coconino County Jail, according to the civil rights group.

The attorney, Mikkel Jordahl, told the ACLU that he is an active participant in a consumer boycott of Israeli goods and wishes to “extend his boycott [activities] to his solely owned law firm” and provide legal services to organizations engaged in boycotts – something a state contractor could not do if the law stood.

In March, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a second lawsuit against the state’s anti-BDS law on behalf of a UC Berkeley lecturer who was invited to speak at Arizona State University.

He was given a contract that included a clause requiring speakers to certify they are not engaged with the BDS movement.

The lecturer, Hatem Bazian, who refused to sign the agreement as written, was eventually allowed to speak and the anti-BDS clause was omitted.

Arizona is one of 25 states which have adopted anti-BDS measures, and legislation is pending in Congress.

In May, human rights activists celebrated the failure of a measure that would have punished supporters of the BDS campaign in Missouri.

The bill would have denied state contracts worth $10,000 or more to businesses and organizations that support the Israel boycott.

Activists said that the legislation’s failure was a direct result of months of grassroots pressure on lawmakers and testimonies during committee hearings.

Rights groups called the legislation “constitutionally indefensible” and “a McCarthyite political litmus test on any company or nonprofit organization that wants to enter into a contract with the state.”

Free speech victory in Germany

Meanwhile, in Germany, a court ruled that the city of Oldenburg unlawfully prevented a group from using a public venue for an event featuring BDS activist Ronnie Barkan in 2016.

The judge said the municipality in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony illegally interfered with freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

The ruling was celebrated by BDS activists in Germany, who have been resisting government crackdowns on Palestinian rights activism and BDS campaigning.

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Thanks for bringing us this good news. Israel's efforts to undermine freedom of speech and assembly in countries around the world are being met with stout resistance. We can all take heart from these developments. The day is approaching when not honoring the BDS campaign against apartheid will land Zionist collaborators in court, as formal sanctions begin to be applied. Apartheid is illegal. Trade with a regime operating under that system is a crime. There should be no reluctance to argue this position in a court of law.

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(1) Government has ZERO business interfering in Civilian boycotts.
(2) Boycotts are the most Democratic and PEACEFUL of actions.
(3) Boycotts are FREEDOM of SPEECH.
(4) Boycotts are FREEDOM of ASSOCIATION -- DISassociation.
(5) Boycotts are VOTING with dollars.
(6) Boycotts PEACEFULLY withhold "power/energy" from those with whom one disagrees without engaging in violence.
(7) In "Capitalism", the system we CLAIM to follow, where and with whom you spend your money is ENTIRELY up to YOU.
The Citizens United Supreme Court decision firmly established that the right to spend money is a form of free speech. That means that the right to NOT spend money is also a form of free speech. Organizing a boycott -- an act of NOT spending money -- is then protected free speech in the same way that soliciting campaign funds to spend on promoting a political candidate or partisan viewpoint is free speech.

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The court rulings give us hope that BDS will not be stopped and will continue to wake up people on the injustice perpetrated onto the Palestinian people and the lands being stolen from them in order to provide space for extremist zionists.
So good to see that the courts side with freedom of speech .

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Free Palestine from oppressive Zionist control and domination. How dare Zionist claim that those who oppose Zionist goals are breaking the law. And how ridiculous that some purportedly progressive, age-of-enlightenment countries criminalize criticism of Israel. Zionism is a racist, ethnically supremacist, illegitimate state that will ultimately fail because of its inherently embedded contradictions and its original sin of forcibly cleansing Palestine of its original and native inhabitants.

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Congratulations to Arizona! Just wanted to add Massachusetts to your list of states that were successful in defeating the anti-BDS bill in the legislature. There were hearings in July of 2017, and then referred to committee. During the budget process, there was an attempt to sneak it in as an amendment, but this too was defeated.

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Most needed now is a boycott of selected Israeli products or of companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This strategy is simple but challenging: a muscular Boycott Movement in the US, with house meetings, visits to retailers, weekend picketing, signs at hundreds of intersections.

Is there a single national, statewide or local organization that is doing regular, daily Face to Face organizing, putting pickets in front of stores?

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).