opinion

COLUMN: The anti-BDS law suppresses free speech



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Assembly Member Philip Y. Ting listens Sept. 11, 2015, to fellow lawmakers discuss legislation on the assembly floor in Sacramento, California. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Throughout the national conversation regarding anti-Semitism and U.S. support for Israel, many states have silently been passing pro-Israel legislation that critics say suppresses free speech rights. Indiana is one of 26 states that has anti-BDS legislation.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a political activist campaign that pressures Israel to comply with international law with regard to Israeli apartheid and colonial occupation of Palestinian territory.

The campaign is a consumer boycott of companies and institutions that participate in the human rights violations toward Palestinians and to hold Israel legally accountable for its actions just like any other nation.

Israel, as well as many of its U.S. supporters, has taken the position that this campaign is anti-Semitic, claiming it seeks the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

The anti-BDS legislation that many states have passed requires that anyone who does business with the government sign a pledge to not be in support of the movement.

Proponents claim this law has no bearing on the individual’s right to freely express their support of the movement, but the problem is that this law financially threatens the individual or organization by forcing them to take a position on an issue.

This law is a brazen violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has already ruled laws targeting independent contractors with impromptu government legislation unconstitutional, albeit when the laws in question are in retaliation to the expression of free speech.

In the Supreme Court's 1996 ruling in Board of County Commissioners, Wabaunsee County, Kansas, Petitioner, v. Keen A. Umbehr, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the opinion of the Court that the First Amendment rights of employees are to be extended to government contractors as well, and for the government to restrict freedom of speech, it must be of compelling state interest.

Anti-BDS laws like Indiana’s House Bill 1378 are clearly not protecting a compelling state interest but are actually enacted to quell free speech on the movement.

Recently, Alan Leveritt, founder of Little Rock’s newspaper the Arkansas Times, has been taking a stand against Arkansas’ similar anti-BDS legislation.

The newspaper is free to the public and stays afloat using ad revenue. A major contributor to the paper’s ad revenue is University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College.

Since the university is funded by the state, the Arkansas Times was asked to sign a pledge to not support BDS, and Leveritt refused. The loss of revenue for the newspaper was severe, near $15,000, which threatened the paper’s ability to stay in business.

The Arkansas Times does not participate in BDS; however, nearly 10 percent of the paper’s revenue comes from the state, which makes legislation like this significantly dangerous for businesses.

It is not clear how anti-BDS legislation began but it is clear that pro-Israel lobbying groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have a significant impact on legislation like this being implemented, as pointed out by Arkansas Sen. Bart Hester, R-Bentonville.

When interviewed by Vice News, Hester admitted to checking with groups like AIPAC for template legislation when crafting Arkansas’ bill.

Anti-BDS legislation like this is explicitly unconstitutional and is used to make a statement by stifling free speech. It is evident that lobbying and campaign finance have a significant role in American politics and point to the root of the problem: money in politics.

Without immediate change to money’s role in politics, the U.S. will see no shortage of moneyed interests pushing legislation like this, which directly conflicts civil liberties and harms American businesses.


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