ACLU files suit against Arizona anti-BDS law

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a second federal suit challenging state law which seeks to repress the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel.

A 2016 law in Arizona creates a blacklist of companies, organizations and other entities which boycott Israel and bans the state from contracting with them.

The lawsuit, which asserts that the Arizona anti-boycott law violates the First Amendment, was filed last week on behalf of an attorney who contracts with the government to provide legal advice to incarcerated persons in Coconino County Jail, according to the ACLU.

The attorney, Mikkel Jordhal, told the ACLU that he is an active participant in a consumer boycott of Israeli goods and wishes to “extend his boycott to his solely owned law firm” and provide legal services to organizations engaged in boycotts.

First Amendment violation

When Jordhal renewed his contract with the county in October last year, “it included an extra form that he had to sign to certify that the firm ‘is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel,’” according to the ACLU.

He signed the form under protest and has excluded his boycott activities from his business. He was asked to sign the form once again in order to renew his contract this year.

“If he agrees, Jordahl will have to limit his boycott participation,” the ACLU stated. “If he refuses, he will put a great deal of his income at risk.”

Jordahl said that the state has no business telling private companies how to act when it comes to boycotts.

“Whatever your stance on the boycott issue, everyone has a right to express their opinions on it and act accordingly,” Jordahl stated.

The ACLU says Arizona’s anti-boycott law violates the First Amendment and is calling for the legislation to be stricken down.

“The First Amendment squarely protects the right to participate in political boycotts,” ACLU attorney Brian Hauss stated.

Arizona is one of more than 20 states to adopt measures condemning or attempting to restrict the BDS movement.

The US Congress is meanwhile considering the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which opposes a United Nations database of companies involved in Israel’s settlement colony enterprise.

The bill would allow the government to impose sanctions on companies complying with calls from the UN Human Rights Council to boycott Israeli settlement goods.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act currently has 268 cosponsors in the House and 51 in the Senate.

Kansas lawsuit

In October, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Kansas on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public high school math teacher who boycotts Israeli goods.

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

When seeking to renew a state teaching contract, Koontz refused to sign a form certifying that she does not participate in a boycott of Israel, as required by state law passed earlier this year.

Attorneys for the state of Kansas failed to provide arguments defending the constitutionality of the law during a federal court hearing earlier this month.

The judge remarked that “I didn’t see, in all candor, that [the Kansas law] is constitutional.”

A ruling has not yet been made in the Kansas suit to block the anti-BDS legislation.

Legal advocates say that the right to boycott remains a protected form of political expression, despite state and federal attempts at silencing Palestine rights activism.

“Anti-BDS laws don’t have a bright future,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, a US firm supporting activists who advocate for Palestinian 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).