WASHINGTON – A federal court in Arizona blocked the state from implementing a law forbidding state contractors from boycotting Israel, on the ground that the law hurts freedom of speech. The decision on Thursday was the second time this year that a law against Israel boycotts has been challenged by the courts, after a similar decision earlier this year regarding such a law in Kansas.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a petition against the law on behalf of a lawyer in Arizona who had a contract with state authorities to provide legal services to prisoners. The lawyer supports boycotts of Israeli companies as a protest over Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. He has stated religious and political motives for that decision.
According to a law passed by Arizona in 2016, the lawyer was asked to sign a document stating that he doesn’t support or participate in boycotts of Israel in order to receive a state contract. The lawyer, together with the ACLU, sued the state, claiming that this law hurts his rights under the First Amendment. The court accepted this claim, and has blocked the law’s implementation.
District Judge Diane Humetewa wrote in her decision that “a restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott.” She added that “the type of collective action targeted by the law specifically implicates the rights of assembly and association that Americans and Arizonans use ‘to bring about political, social, and economic change.’”
The ACLU said in a statement that “political boycotts are a constitutionally protected form of non-violent protest,” adding that “today’s ruling supports the notion that the government has no business telling people—even people who contract with the state—what causes they can or can’t support.”
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The ACLU clarified in their statement that the organization doesn’t support boycotts on Israel, and in fact has no position on the issue - but that it supports the constitutional right of individuals to boycott other countries as a form of political expression.
In January, a court in Kanas blocked a similar law after the ACLU sued on behalf of a teacher who was asked to sign a document stating she doesn’t participate in boycotts of Israel or the settlements, in order to receive a contract for training math teachers in the state. Judge Daniel Crabtree said at the time that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”
The Kansas law was later amended so that it would only be relevant to companies that make more than $100,000 worth of business with the state, and that boycott Israeli goods that are “an integral part of business conducted or sought to be conducted with the state.”