[The court-ordered agreement with the university allowing Bazian to speak] “is a reflection of the strength of our legal position. We look forward to seeking a declaration that the law, in all of its applications, is unconstitutional.”
— Gadeir Abbas, attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
A university lecturer and Palestine rights activist will be allowed to speak at Arizona State University next month, after initially being barred due to a state law blacklisting advocates of an Israel boycott.
A court-approved agreement with the university allowing the event with Hatem Bazian to go forward is “a welcome development,” Gadeir Abbas, attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The Electronic Intifada.
In February, the Muslim Students Association at Arizona State University had invited Bazian, University of California at Berkeley lecturer and chair of American Muslims for Palestine, to speak about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in support of Palestinian rights during an event on campus in April.
Bazian was asked to sign an agreement that included a clause certifying that he is not engaged with a boycott of Israel.
Growing numbers of Americans and the civil society institutions to which they belong are supporting economic action against Israel as a moral and nonviolent way of showing their disapproval of Israel’s oppression.
It should be a no-brainer that Americans can boycott whomever or whatever they choose without risking governmental punishment. After all, the Supreme Court ruled that states have no “right to prohibit peaceful political activity” such as a boycott, which is an “expression on public issues” that “has always rested on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) concluded its annual policy conference last week with a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. High on its legislative agenda was advocating for bills that would penalise Americans for engaging in their First Amendment-protected right to boycott for Palestinian rights.
AIPAC conference attendees pressed their elected officials to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). The original, draconian version of this bill, unveiled at last year’s AIPAC conference, proposed to jail individuals for 20 years if they advanced an international organization’s call for a boycott of Israel, or even of products from its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“This bill is unconstitutional because it seeks to impose the government’s political views on Americans who choose to express themselves through boycotts.”
— Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized a revised version of draft legislation intended to target the growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, saying that the latest version of the bill remains unconstitutional.
The ACLU had voiced objections to the original bill in Jul 2017 on First Amendment grounds, and in response to such criticisms, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) released a revised version over the weekend.
But in a Mar 6 press release, the ACLU revealed that it had written to senators informing them of the veteran civil liberties group’s opposition to the revised bill, in what is a blow to pro-Israel groups who are hoping that the bill will become law. [The letter can be viewed here.]
“Universities have been a beacon of free speech and thought — that is what they have been for all these years, but only certain students are afforded that right to free speech.”
— Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director of CAIR-Arizona
A lawsuit against one of America’s largest public universities could pose a major test for the Justice Department’s commitment to campus free speech.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against Arizona State University, accusing the school of violating Muslim students’ right to free speech and rights to equal protection by enforcing a ban on speakers who call for boycotting Israel.
The suit was filed on behalf of American Muslims for Palestine and its founder, Hatem Bazian, shortly after Arizona State’s Muslim Students Association invited him to speak at what is billed as an “educational event regarding Palestinian perspectives on Middle East conflict” on April 3.
Bazian, a senior lecturer at University of California in Berkeley, said he could not agree to the school’s speaker’s contract because of a “no boycott of Israel” clause that essentially bars him and others from participating “solely because they engage in and advocate for economic boycotts of Israel as a means to promote Palestinians’ human rights,” according to the lawsuit.
BDS opponents have recently been dealt a series of setbacks, most notably the declaration by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last month that it had identified more than 200 businesses, 22 of them American, that could be held accountable for operating in settlements.
Israel supporters in the US are gearing up for AIPAC’s much-vaunted annual policy conference, with measures to counter the widening campaign to boycott Israel and its West Bank settlements expected to feature prominently in the powerful lobbying group’s agenda.
This includes legislation that several Republican and Democratic Congress members have sponsored to curb the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of Arab and Palestinian land.
“As churches and church-related organizations, we reject any efforts by the state to curtail these rights. We urge you to oppose the proposed legislation, and thus support the rights of individuals and institutions to spend and invest in accordance with their faith, values, and policies.”
Dangerous bills that could undermine the work of advocates for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis continue to make their way through Congress. These include the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697 and S. 720) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (H.R. 2856 and S. 170) which are part of a larger effort at the federal and state levels to outlaw or penalize the use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israeli government policies.
It is urgent that members of Congress hear from constituents who oppose these and similar bills. The U.N. Human Rights Office recently released a report outlining progress in developing a database of businesses engaged in certain activities related to Israeli settlements, as mandated earlier by the U.N. Human Rights Council. A new House resolution critical of the council includes a call to support the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. . . .
“The court has rightly recognized the serious First Amendment harms being inflicted by this misguided law. . . . 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.”
— Brian Hauss, ACLU attorney
To the Honorable Representative:
As Washington residents and Washington organizations, we are disturbed at ongoing attacks on our First Amendment right to boycott. In the Washington State Legislature, two measures from 2017, HJM 4004 and HJM 4009, both condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, have been reintroduced into the House Judiciary Committee during the 2018 legislative session. Though these measures appear not to be moving forward, we are concerned that similar anti-boycott language might be inserted into final legislation during this busy session.
HJM 4004 and 4009 radically mischaracterize the BDS movement. BDS is a grassroots campaign to gain equal rights for Palestinians and to pressure Israel to abide by international humanitarian law. While BDS is modeled after the South African boycott and thus calls for broad boycotts against Israeli institutions, nothing in it calls for discrimination against individuals solely because of their national origin, religion, or ethnicity.
“By asking the state legislature to pass a bill that strikes at free speech, [supporters] forced legislators to choose between supporting Israel’s occupation and supporting free speech.”
— Cole Harrison of Massachusetts Peace Action
Activists in Massachusetts successfully pressured state lawmakers to stop a bill on February 8 that would have classified the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights as “discrimination.”
The bill requires anyone who enters into a contract with the state worth more than $10,000 to pledge that they will not refuse to do business with any person based on the person’s “race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.”
It has no chance of being passed this session as a key committee declined to advance it.
“Florida has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and boycotts intended to destroy the State of Israel. Current statutes are clear — local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in anti-Semitic boycotts of Israel. When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute.”
— Florida State Representative Randy Fine
Last December, Grammy-award winning pop-singer Lorde canceled a planned concert in Tel Aviv after activists called for her to join what’s called the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement,” which campaigns for a global boycott of Israel until it withdraws from Palestinian territories.
“I have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show,” said Lorde in a statement. “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”
Now, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine is trying to get Miami and Tampa to cancel Lorde’s upcoming shows, citing a state statute that prohibits businesses from conducting business over $1 million with any organization engaged in a boycott of Israel.
The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that boycotts are constitutionally protected speech. Nonetheless, Kansas passed a law requiring all those who contract with the state to certify that they are not boycotting Israel.
“Speech, assembly, and petition . . . to change a social order. . . [are] on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”
— US Supreme Court
“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.”
— US District Judge Daniel Crabtree
A federal judge in Topeka has ruled that Kansas cannot tell contractors what they can and cannot boycott. That would seem obvious to anyone familiar with free speech protections under the First Amendment.
But last summer, Kansas passed a law requiring all those who contract with the state to certify that they are not boycotting Israel.