Monday, December 10, 2018

US Federal Judge upholds American’s ‘right to boycott’ Israel


By Martin Leeper - February 12, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [BDS] [Features]
Tags: [BDS] [Israeli lobby]

In the hyper-globalized system of finance, trade and security, American policies reverberate around the world in a myriad of ways with far reaching effects, some intended, some not, but often, rarely understood by America’s general public.

No where, possibly, is that more true than the occupation of Palestine. Physical distance, a media addicted to sensationalism, and misinformation campaigns by powerful lobbies all help to obscure the complexities on the ground.
 
However, in the relatively rare case of engaged and active citizenry, disillusioned by America’s role in the perpetuation of this permanent occupation, there has been another campaign underway—legal, forced, silence.
 
In June 2017, the Kansas State Legislature passed a law, HB2409, that required any individual or company entering into a contract with the state to “ to certify that they are not engaged in a  boycott of Israel.” Esther Koontz, a teacher and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, did not sign the contract and therefore was not awarded the position she was offered.
 
America has long held the right to boycott under the freedom of speech clause in the first amendment of the US Constitution. Koontz, therefore, decided to take Kansas State’s Commissioner of Education to court over her contract’s retraction.
 
On January 30th, the US District Court for Kansas awarded Koontz a preliminary injunction. This is not a final verdict but means her lawyer was able to prove a “likelihood of success.” With this injunction, Kansas has been ordered to immediately cease “requiring any independent contractor to sign a certification that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel.”
 
An injunction merely pauses the law as the litigation continues and therefore, it applies explicitly to Kansas for now. However, if it is upheld upon conclusion, it could have nation-wide implications.
 
Palestine Legal (PL) is a US based organization “dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom.” According to PL, since 2014, “at least 102 anti-BDS measures have been introduced in state/local legislatures across the country.”
 
Israel is one of the rare bi-partisan topics in American politics. 24 states, not just Kansas, have adopted anti-BDS legislation with another 11 states with pending legislation.
 
Kansas is a deep red state governed by the Republican Party. A republican governor, and a supermajority controls both sides of the legislature—enough members to override any minority party obstructions.
 
California on the other hand is a deep blue state governed by Democrats and was, at one point, a beacon of progressive values. However, in 2016, California enacted a strikingly similar law to Kansas, AB 2844. The California law is not quite as severe, it doesn’t affect every state contract, but in a similar way, forces certain stipulations on free speech for state contracts over $100,000.  
 
The Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, while addressing the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) last month said; “the United States of America is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends.”
 
This may be an understatement when it comes to Israel’s reliance on the US. According to the Congressional Research Center, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II” and there are no signs of this slowing down.
 
In 2016, the Obama administration signed the largest military-aid package in US history, $38 billion, to upgrade Israel’s aircrafts, military mobility and missile defense. On top of aid, Israel was also the first free-trade agreement ever entered into by the US back in 1985, with trade between the two countries in 2016 topping $49 billion.
 
It is hard to understate Israel’s reliance on America, and therefore it is easy to see the threat posed by the American public’s waning support. Israel’s power in the region comes in large part from the economic and military might that is backed up by the west and the US in particular. 
 
Therefore, it’s no wonder pro-Israeli groups donated $17 million to federal elections alone in 2016. Any action, whether it’s a university seminar, a single company’s divestment, or a teacher’s boycott of Israeli products is a threat to this necessary alliance. And any threat to the American-Israeli alliance is a fundamental threat to Israel’s power.
 
Everything from hurricane victims in Texas [being] required to pledge not to boycott Israel as a condition of receiving relief aid, to a Palestinian-American professor being sued for researching and teaching about Palestine, from California’s AB2844 to  Kansas’ HB2409, Israel and pro-Israel groups have prioritized criminalizing American dissent.  
 
The district court injunction is one of the first times the legal system has denied one of these attempts to legally silence the American public. Israel is falling out of favor with a generation of Americans, and if this injunction is upheld, it will be a major victory for free speech, giving political and legal space for the growing disillusionment with a half century of blind support for the occupying state.
 
Photo Source: Flickr

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