‘Scary’: US appeals court upholds Arkansas anti-BDS law boycott, divestment, sanctions news

A U.S. appeals court has upheld an Arkansas law that restricts state contractors from boycotting Israel, raising concerns that the government is violating free speech when criticizing Israeli violations.

The Eighth Circuit ruled Wednesday that boycotts fall under the power of the state to regulate commerce, not “acts of expression” protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

But advocates say the law boycott Israel, backed by pro-Israel groups, has been adopted by dozens of countries for rhetoric aimed at unconstitutionally and coldly supporting Palestinian human rights.

Such laws are aimed at countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has pushed for nonviolent pressure on Israel to end what major human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have described as abuses against Palestinians, as “apartheid”.

“It’s a terrible reading and very inaccurate,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Commission (ADC).

“I think this is a very un-American ruling and position. It would upend the First Amendment. It is appalling that we live in an era where courts are undermining our right and ability to express ourselves.”

The Arkansas case began in 2018 when the Little Rock-based publication The Arkansas Times sued the state over the state’s anti-BDS law after refusing to sign a pledge not to sign. boycott israel To win an advertising contract with a public university.

Contractors who don’t sign the commitment are required by law to reduce their fees by 20%.

The district court initially dismissed the lawsuit, but a three-judge appeals panel blocked the law in a divisive 2021 ruling that it violated First Amendment. Now, the full panel has reinstated the statute.

This Arkansas Times Its publisher, Alan Leveritt, was quoted Wednesday as saying he would discuss “future steps” with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a civil rights group that helped the paper sue the state.

For its part, the ACLU called the ruling “wrong” and “a departure from a longstanding tradition in this country.”

“It ignores the fact that this country was built on a boycott of British goods, and boycotts have been a fundamental part of American political discourse ever since. We are considering the next steps and will continue to provide Political boycotts strive for strong protections,” Brian House, an attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Program, said in a statement.

Judge Jonathan Corbis, nominated by former president Donald Trumpwrote in the decision that state law does not prohibit criticism of Israel.

“It only prohibits economic decisions that discriminate against Israel,” Corbis said. “Because unless explained, these business decisions are invisible to the observer, they are not expressive in themselves, and they do not involve the First Amendment.”

BDS exerts nonviolent pressure on Israel to end abuse of Palestinians, which major human rights groups describe as ‘apartheid’ [File: Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

But in dissenting opinion, Justice Jane Kelly rejected the idea that the law was rooted in economic issues.

“By courier[ed] Under the terms of the act, Arkansas not only seeks to avoid contracting with companies that refuse to do business with Israel,” Kelly wrote. “It also seeks to avoid contracting anyone who supports or facilitates such activities. “

She said the law allows state governments — in violation of the First Amendment — to “consider a company’s speech and connections to others to determine whether the company is involved in a ‘boycott of Israel'”.

Kelly argued that such speech would be prohibited by law and could include “posting anti-Israel slogans, donating to causes promoting boycotts of Israel, encouraging others to boycott Israel, and even publicly criticizing the bill.” It is unclear how many of Kelly’s colleagues in the 11-judge court joined her in her dissent.

Appeals court ruling is encouraging economic growth for Americans across the country and cultural resistance Russia invaded Ukraine.

Republicans and Democratic-leaning U.S. states Passed and enforced anti-BDS laws preventing businesses from boycotting not only Israel but illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank, Occupied East Jerusalem, and Occupied Syria golan heights.

Recently, many states forced to divest Ben & Jerry’s parent company was fired after the ice cream maker withdrew from the occupied West Bank over human rights and international law concerns.

Free speech advocates say the potential impact of anti-boycott laws extends beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.For example, several states have introduction bill Punish companies that boycott the fossil fuel industry, modeled on anti-BDS laws.

The ADC’s Ayoub stressed that the interpretation that freedom of speech can be suppressed in the economic interest of the state is a serious violation of the First Amendment.

He said he could see a scenario based on the ruling in which a state would criminalize boycotting certain big companies for ethical or environmental reasons.

“This isn’t just boycott. It opens the door to stripping all Americans of their First Amendment rights. It’s horrific,” he said.

Several federal courts across the country have accepted and mostly blocked anti-BDS laws, but Wednesday’s ruling by an appeals court complicates legal analysis of the constitutionality of such regulations.

Abed said the Supreme Court should settle the debate, but noted that the court’s conservative majority has recently turned peel off – does not protect – individual rights.

“You just have to trust a real [chipping away] A lot of our rights lately,” he said.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, echoed Ayub’s remarks, saying the appeals court’s ruling “endangers every American’s right to free speech.”

“With its ruling against The Arkansas Times, the Eighth Circuit breaks with virtually every court that has reviewed and repealed these unconstitutional, non-U.S. anti-boycott laws,” Mitchell told Al Jazeera.

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