Muslim Group Sues State of Maryland Over Boycott Israel Law

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says law that requires contractors to certify that they do not boycott Israel violates free speech

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
FILE Photo: Palestinian and Jewish groups rally together in support of the BDS movement.
FILE Photo: Palestinian and Jewish groups rally together in support of the BDS movement. Credit: David Karp / AP

Maryland's ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel tramples on the First Amendment rights of a software engineer who advocates for Palestinians, a Muslim civil rights group claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' federal lawsuit seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in October 2017.

The order requires contractors to certify in writing that they don't boycott Israel. The group's suit claims the order has an unconstitutional chilling effect on First Amendment-protected political advocacy supporting Palestine.

>>Read more: The Rashida Tlaib 'anti-Semitism' slur reveals the loud, illiberal face of the anti-BDS movement | Opinion

CAIR says 25 other states have enacted measures similar to Maryland's, through legislation or executive orders. CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas said other federal lawsuits have challenged measures in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.

CAIR sued Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state legislator. Ali's lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software program contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organizations that "contribute to the oppression of Palestinians."

"Speech and advocacy related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is core political speech on a matter of public concern entitled to the highest levels of constitutional protection," the suit says.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the attorney general hadn't seen the suit and doesn't comment on pending litigation. A spokeswoman for Hogan's office said, "We are confident that our executive order is completely consistent with the First Amendment and will be upheld in court."

Ali, a resident of Gaithersburg, served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011 and represented Montgomery County as a Democrat. He accused Hogan, a Republican, of making an "end around" the Legislature by signing the executive order after lawmakers repeatedly rejected several "anti-BDS" bills targeting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

"This is unacceptable, and Larry Hogan should know that our rights will not be stricken by him," Ali said at a news conference in Baltimore.
The executive order says a boycott based on religion, national origin or ethnicity is discriminatory. A business boycott of Israel and its territories "is not a commercial decision made for business or economic reasons," it says.

"Contracting with business entities that discriminate make the State a passive participant in private-sector commercial discrimination," the order says.

In December, the Arkansas Times weekly newspaper sued to block a similar measure. That state law, which took effect in August 2017, requires contractors to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don't sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office argued that boycotting Israel is not activity protected by the First Amendment.

"It is neither speech, nor is it conduct that is inherently expressive, nor associational activity that is afforded constitutional protection," wrote attorneys representing Rutledge's office.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott