Federal court smacks down effort to nullify Arkansas’ anti-BDS law

Micaela Burrow, DCNF

A federal appeals court overruled a plea to overturn the state’s anti-Israel boycott legislation Wednesday, a ruling defendants now hope to bring before the Supreme Court.

The 8th Circuit Court ruled against the Arkansas Times’ case that the law, which would require the newspaper to sign a document affirming it would not participate in a boycott of Israel, violated the First Amendment. The court opinion found that the law prohibits “economic decisions that discriminate against Israel” and does not unconstitutionally compel speech regarding Israel.

“Today is a resounding victory for Arkansas’s anti-discrimination law and reinforces Arkansas’s relationship with our long-time ally, Israel,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in a statement. “Arkansas had to spend taxpayer resources proving that Arkansas Times is not entitled to discriminate.”

The Arkansas Times plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court and will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit civil rights firm, publisher Alan Leveritt told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

Arkansas introduced legislation in 2017 requiring entities with state contracts to reduce fees by 20% if they refused to agree not to boycott Israel. The University of Arkansas’ Pulaski Technical College threatened to cancel an advertising contract with The Arkansas Times, citing the state law, according to The Times of Israel.

The Arkansas Times sued, but a district judge dismissed the case in 2019. A divided panel reversed the ruling and brought it before a full appeals court, page 3 of the court opinion shows.

“We consider being banned from doing business with our state government for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel a ridiculous government overreach that has nothing to do with Arkansas,” said Leveritt. “More importantly, in our particular case it requires the Arkansas Times to take a political position in return for advertising.”

“We hope and expect that the Supreme Court will set things right and reaffirm the nation’s historic commitment to providing robust protection to political boycotts,” Brian Hauss, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, told The Associated Press.

Some 30 states have adopted similar legislation to the Arkansas bill as a way of containing the Boycott, Divestment (BDS) and Sanctions movement that advocates for cutting off Israel economically, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Federal legislation against boycotting Israel has stalled in Congress.

Ben & Jerry’s, a popular ice cream company, faced widespread criticism in 2021 when it stopped selling its products in parts of Israel, a decision the BDS movement endorsed.

The University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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