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legislation prohibiting boycott of Israel: ACLU

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Top US court to reconsider legislation banning boycott of Israel: ACLU

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • It’s about overturning an Arkansas state law that punishes companies that boycott Israel.
  • The organization protects the right to freedom of expression.

A leading US civil rights organization has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s decision upholding an Arkansas state law that punishes businesses that boycott Israel.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), alleging that the Court of Appeals judgment violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech, filed a petition on Thursday asking the most high court to take up the case.

In their filing, ACLU attorneys said that when a state targets certain boycotts for punitive sanctions, as Arkansas did in this case, it violates both the underlying prohibition of the first amendment on content and point of view discrimination and freedom to boycott.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the law in June, saying boycotts do not qualify as “expressive conduct” protected by the First Amendment but rather as economic activity.

The bill is inspired by similar regulations passed by a number of US states to stifle the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to encourage Israel to stop mistreating Palestinians through non-violent means.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two rights organizations that have likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.

The Arkansas Times, a Little Rock newspaper, filed a lawsuit against the state in 2018 after it refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in exchange for an advertising contract with a public university. That’s when the Arkansas affair began.

The law provides for a 20% fee reduction for contractors who do not sign the undertaking.

A three-judge appeals panel blocked the law in 2021 after a federal trial court denied the request on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.

A full appeals court overturned the panel’s judgment in June, essentially bringing the law back to life.

In the American legal system, the Supreme Court serves as the last line of defense and review. The decision of the appeals court will stand if the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case.

Three of the Supreme Court’s nine justices were chosen by former President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Israel, giving the court a conservative majority.

Rights activists have warned that anti-boycott regulations are being used to stifle boycotts of other industries, such as the fossil fuel trade, and to push for unconstitutional silence in defense of Palestinian rights.

The June ruling upholding the anti-BDS law in Arkansas “misinterprets” legal precedent, according to Brain Hauss, a senior ACLU attorney, and removes protection from freedoms that Americans have enjoyed for millennia.

Hauss said in a statement Thursday that the ruling “worse still, affirms the government’s right to arbitrarily ban boycotts that reflect sentiments with which the government disagrees.”

“The Supreme Court should hear this case to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the freedom to engage in boycotts of politically charged products.”
The advocacy group Americans for Peace Now (APN), which identifies as pro-Israel and pro-peace, also urged the Supreme Court to review the decision.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, AFN President Hadar Susskind said in a statement that it “could have enormous consequences in the United States and beyond.”

“We hope the Court will deliberate on the issue and determine that states do not have the power to restrict the free speech rights of individuals, groups and businesses. You can be for or against the boycott of Israel or the occupation, but you cannot impose your point of view on others or penalize them for adopting it.

Boycotts against Israel and all areas occupied by Israel are frequently prohibited by anti-BDS legislation. Following Ben & Jerry’s decision to cease operations in the Palestinian West Bank, many US states threatened sanctions against the ice cream maker last year.

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