Kansas Court Temporarily Blocks Law Punishing Those Who Boycott Israel or the Settlements

ACLU filed suit on behalf of math teacher who lost contract for boycotting products made in Israeli settlements

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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A woman holds a sign which reads "Boycott Israel" in front of symbolic coffins while attending a demonstration supporting Palestine, in Berlin August 1, 2014.
File photo: A woman holds a sign which reads "Boycott Israel" in front of symbolic coffins while attending a demonstration supporting Palestine, in Berlin August 1, 2014. Credit: Steffi Loos/Reuters
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - A federal court in Kansas has temporarily blocked the implementation of a state law punishing residents who boycott Israel or its settlements in the West Bank.

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The ruling was celebrated on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a case against the law on behalf of a mathematics teacher who lost a contract with the state because she boycotts Israeli companies.

Brian Hauss, an attorney with the ACLU who argued the case in court, said that “the court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law, which imposes an unconstitutional ideological litmus test.

This ruling should serve as a warning to government officials around the country that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts.” The ACLU has filed a case against a similar state law in Arizona.

The Kansas bill took effect in July 2017. It requires that all those who enter into a contract with the state of Kansas be asked to certify that they do not support or participate in a boycott of Israel or its settlements in the West Bank.

The teacher, Esther Kurtz, is a member of the Mennonite church and has decided not to buy Israeli goods because of her opposition to the occupation in the West Bank. She sued the state over the law's implementation.

The district judge handling the case, Daniel Crabtree, ordered a preliminary injunction until the case is settled, thus stopping the state from implementing the law for the time being. He mentioned the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court "has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law," and added that in injunction was "in the public interest."

In recent years, a number of U.S. States have approved similar policies, most of them through local legislation and others through executive orders by governors. The Kansas was described by the ACLU as "the first ruling addressing a recent wave of laws nationwide aiming to punish people who boycott Israel." It comes at the same time that Congress is considering a controversial piece of legislation called "the Israeli Anti-Boycott Act", which the ACLU has warned could cripple free speech regarding Israel and the Palestinians on a national level.

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