Federal lawsuit filed against Kansas anti-BDS bill

Kansas has refused to contract with math teacher Esther Koontz over her support of the Israel boycott. (ACLU)

A Kansas law requiring state-contracted individuals or companies to file written certification that they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel” is being challenged in a federal lawsuit.

The complaint was filed on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a public high school math teacher, Esther Koontz, who participates in the consumer boycott of Israeli goods.

It marks the first time that a federal lawsuit seeks to challenge a state law against the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Boycotts are a constitutionally protected free speech right.

Though the ACLU told The Electronic Intifada it cannot specify whether or not this is also the first time an individual boycott supporter has faced professional consequences under such a law, the group is “aware that this law, and similar laws in other states, are being enforced.”

The ACLU states that the Kansas law violates the First Amendment for several reasons: “It compels speech regarding protected political beliefs, associations and expression; restricts the political expression and association of government contractors; and discriminates against protected expression based on its content and viewpoint.”

Koontz is a member of the Mennonite Church USA, which passed a resolution in July in support of divestment from companies that profit from violations of Palestinian rights.

The ACLU said that in accordance with the church’s call for boycott and her own protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Koontz decided to not buy products made by Israeli companies as well as international companies that operate inside Israeli settlement colonies.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.

“Not in good conscience”

In addition to teaching math, Koontz trains other teachers as a contractor with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program.

When she was asked to sign a formal declaration certifying that she does not participate in a boycott of Israel, as dictated by the new state law, Koontz said that “she could not sign the form in good conscience,” the ACLU states.

By not signing the form, Kansas refused to award Koontz a contract and she is now unable to participate in the state’s educational training program.

“You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights,” Koontz stated. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.”

“I’m disappointed that I can’t be a math trainer for the state of Kansas because of my political views about human rights across the globe,” she added.

Legal experts say that as support for Palestinian rights continues to grow, Israel lobby groups have accelerated their promotion of legislation aimed at chilling free speech and blacklisting advocates for Palestinian rights.

“This lawsuit, the first to challenge an anti-BDS law, will send a clear message to those Israel advocacy groups and legislators who have shown a willingness to trample on constitutional rights in order to shield Israel from criticism and accountability,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal.

Precedence

If the ACLU’s lawsuit successfully upends the Kansas anti-BDS law, it could set a precedent for activists and civil rights groups to challenge similar legislation passed in 20 other states and the US Congress.

Thomas Dresslar, an ACLU spokesperson, told The Electronic Intifada that the group hopes the lawsuit “will serve as a reminder to state legislators that the First Amendment protects the right to boycott, forbids ideological litmus tests and prohibits the government from using its economic leverage to silence one side of a public debate.”

Over the summer, the Israel lobby group AIPAC pushed a bill in Congress that could impose large fines and long prison sentences on companies and their personnel if they are deemed to be complying with a boycott on Israel or its settlements called for by an international organization.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act currently has 261 sponsors in the House and 49 in the Senate.

The ACLU condemned the act for violating constitutional free speech rights.

Due to sustained pressure from legal groups and activists, a handful of US lawmakers have pulled their support of the bill.

In August, 100 civil and human rights organizations endorsed a statement urging lawmakers to reject the bill outright.

But the bill remains a threat, especially given the current administration’s antipathy toward anti-racist protesters and protest movements more generally.

“In the Trump era especially, we must vigilantly safeguard our right to dissent, including the First Amendment right to support boycotts for Palestinian rights,” Palestine Legal’s Khalidi said.

“Elected officials should be in the business of safeguarding our constitutional rights, not legislating them away.”

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What isn't mentioned are two important points that make the story richer and the teacher's case stronger.
First, the Kansas State Constitution's Bill of Rights has several protections against such laws as the anti-BDS law; presumably the ACLU will address these as well as the U.S. Constitutional rights violated by the Kansas state legislature's recent anti-BDS laws. Those clauses are in Rights # 1, 2, 7 & 11; and 18 may be said to protect citizens from such frivolous laws. State constitutional rights, like federal, are unalienable.
Second, the Zionist founders of the so-called "Jewish state" of Israel opposed another form of boycott in the 1930s - the worldwide boycott against Nazi Germany because of its treatment of Jews. The Zionist Jews collaborated with Nazi Germany, supporting the German economy in exchange for the Nazis granting emigration visas for Jews selected by the Zionist leaders to emigrate to Palestine, where for some time Jews bought more from Hitler's Germany than from the United Kingdom, which controlled Mandate Palestine until 1948. The Zionist-elite Jews themselves discriminated against the vast majority of Jews, therefore, since most Jews pressed urgently for global boycott to force Germany to lift its anti-Jewish policies. This raises the ironic question whether the Zionist Jews were partly responsible for Nazi Germany's successful evasion of the type of boycott which proved effective against the racist regime of apartheid South Africa a half century later. Germany might have fallen sooner, and the Allies might have mistrusted Germany more and prepared earlier for its militarization had it not been for the Israel-founders' undercutting the global fight against anti-Semitism. It's worth keeping in mind Ben-Gurion's 1937 letter to his son saying he would rather only half Europe's Jews escape the Nazi death machine and succeed in colonizing Palestine than that all the Jews escape by emigrating to countries other than Palestine.

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The Kansas law and others like it are flagrantly unconstitutional, a fact which cannot have escaped the attention of their framers. In light of these facts, those responsible for knowingly inflicting illegal punishments on citizens, in open defiance of the First Amendment to the Constitution, should be stripped of office and faced with criminal prosecution. A thorough public investigation should then commence to determine the level of Israeli fifth column activities underway in the United States. The resources currently lavished on the absurd contention that Russia corrupted an American election would be much better expended on an effort to expose how Israel actually does corrupt American political processes on a daily basis.

It can only be hoped that this suit- Koontz vs the State of Kansas- will take its place alongside another celebrated case originating in Kansas, Brown vs Board of Education, in future annals of federal court decisions reaffirming constitutional guarantees. And Esther Koontz is to be congratulated and supported in her courageous stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

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As an outsider looking in , I am appalled that so many states have made it illegal to openly boycott products from Israel.This speaks volumes about the control that Israel has over passing laws in the US .
I hope Trudeau is not thinking of doing the same to Canadians and I certainly hope that courts will uphold the constitutional right of US citizens .

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Tyranny, is being jailed for supporting the laws of Humanity.

Crimes against humanity , Just reason to boycott Israel. My Congressman Brad Sherman attacked the bill of rights, giving me a reason closer to home, to boycott Israel, to protect the Constitution of the United States of America. The First Amendment of the Constitution or bill of rights says
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Supreme Court ruled boycotting is protected as free speech.

Brad Sherman despite the Bill of rights, still tried to make boycotting Israel illegal.

What AIPAC the Israeli lobby tried but failed to do is make a law to send Americans to prison for 20 years and fine them up to a million dollars for boycotting Israel. .... WTF we can boycott anything but Israel?

Boycotting Israel until it no longer attacks our basic freedom is a way to protect American freedom. Take away the money. Take away the power.
Take away the ability of Israel to attack American rights.

Tyranny, is being jailed for supporting the laws of Humanity.

You can see who voted for it by checking
HR 1697 and S 720

Please write your reps and tell them that the bill of rights is the foundation America is built on. We should not give up our rights in support of another countries criminal activity. Write all your reps tell em how you feel and vote those congressmen and Senators out of office. America for the people, by the people. The American People not by a foreign Lobby attacking our basic rights.

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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).