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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/13/21

Federal Court strikes down Arkansas' attempt to Punish proponents of Boycotting Israel over treatment of Palestinians

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Andrew DeMillo at the Associated Press reports that a 3-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has struck down an Arkansas law requiring contractors with the state to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.

The alternative print monthly the Arkansas Times carried advertising from the University of Arkansas -- Pulaski Technical College. When the law was passed, the university demanded that owner Alan Leveritt sign the pledge not to boycott. Leveritt does not boycott Israel, but he absolutely refused to sign any such constraint on his and his reporters' freedom of speech, which had the effect of abrogating their First Amendment rights. UA-PTC thus pulled their advertising and Leveritt sued them with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 8th Circuit has upheld Leveritt's right to freedom of speech. DeMillo writes,

    "The court said the law is written so broadly that it would also apply to vendors that support or promote a boycott.

    "The Act prohibits the contractor from engaging in boycott activity outside the scope of the contractual relationship 'on its own time and dime,'" the court said in its 2-1 decision. "Such a restriction violates the First Amendment."

The supporters of the anti-boycott law will not tell you that state universities consider professors who come to give talks on their campuses to be sole proprietors of a business for tax purposes, and so speakers invited to campus cannot be paid an honorarium or be reimbursed for their travel expenses unless they sign the anti-boycott pledge. These laws are thus the biggest threats to campus free speech ever seen in the history of the United States.

I don't myself boycott Israel proper, though I do boycott Israeli squatter settlements on the West Bank, but I would not sign a statement such as was demanded by the Arkansas state government and so would have been effectively prevented from speaking at the University of Arkansas.

The anti-boycott laws are the ultimate in cancel culture.

They are also un-American. The Boston Tea Party was a boycott of a British commodity because of American feelings that the British government was taxing them without representation.

Some 32 states have passed laws prohibiting the boycott of Israel. Whenever these laws have been challenged in the courts, they have been struck down, and they are clearly unconstitutional. The laws are backed by Israel's cabinet-level Ministry of Strategic Affairs and are a clear and systematic attack on the basic rights of Americans.

The proponents of boycotting Israel are making a stand against that country's policy of keeping 5 million Palestinians stateless and without basic human rights under Israeli military rule.

Boycotting the state of Israel, refusing to buy its bonds or give it money or take money from it is not the same as acting in a discriminatory way toward Jews. Some 20% of Israelis are not Jews in any case.

African-American boycotts of white discriminatory businesses were key to the victory of the Civil Rights movement in the 1920s (see below).

The right wing in America routinely gets up boycotts. Trump supporters boycotted Walmart because it carried T-shirts saying "Impeach Trump." The powerful far-right American Family Association also launched a boycott of Walmart because the company put out an ad that was gay friendly. Trump supporters boycotted Netflix over the company's deal to have Barack and Michelle Obama produce content. The Trump movement, tinged with fascism and white supremacism, has advocated large numbers of boycotts of companies -- Starbucks, Nike, Nordstrom's even Oreo.

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Juan Cole is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia.  He is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (more...)

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