Israel boycott bans are threatening our First Amendment rights
After days of deadlock that saw far-right Republicans hold governance hostage in their effort to spoil Kevin McCarthy’s bid to be elected speaker, the US House of Representatives is finally back in session. Republicans, who gained control of the House during the 2022 midterm elections, kicked off the new year by voting to launch an investigation into President Joe Biden’s so-called “weaponization” of the federal government. In doing so, the GOP made its agenda clear: to be a thorn in the administration’s side at all times, whatever the cost to progress and democracy.
Yet, while we will likely see partisan deadlock on most issues until the next election cycle, there will be one area of bipartisan activity that will continue unabated: the united effort to shield Israel from accountability for war crimes and human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
In particular, legislators and interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum have been stepping up their efforts to target those using their First Amendment rights to condemn the Israeli military occupation or demand that the Israeli regime adheres to international law.
In recent years, dozens of states adopted legislation designed to punish individuals and companies that refuse to do business in occupied Palestine or with those who profit from Israel’s military occupation. For example, in 2017, the state of Texas only provided hurricane disaster relief funds to those who promised they would not boycott Israel. In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a child speech pathologist in Texas, was fired for refusing to make a similar pledge. That year, the Arkansas Times, a local newspaper based in Little Rock, sued the state of Arkansas after a public university withdrew an advertising contract. Why? Because the newspaper did not renounce its constitutionally protected right to boycott Israel.
While federal courts have struck down most of these laws for blatantly violating the First Amendment, the case of the Arkansas Times was different. The Eighth Circuit Court ruled against the Arkansas Times in July 2022, stripping the newspaper of its right to boycott Israel. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced its decision not to review, at least for now, the constitutionality of Arkansas’ anti-boycott law.