Kansas Won’t Let Me Train Math Teachers Because I Boycott Israel

I’m a member of the Mennonite Church. I’ve also been a math teacher for almost a decade. Because of my political views, the state of Kansas has decided that I can’t help it train other math teachers.

I was chosen last spring to participate in a program that trains public school math teachers all over Kansas. After completing a two-day preparation course in May, I was ready to take on the role.

But  in June, Kansas passed a law requiring any individual or company seeking a contract with the state to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. That law affects me personally. As a member of the Mennonite Church USA, and a person concerned with the human rights of all people — and specifically the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights in Israel and Palestine — I choose to boycott consumer goods made by Israeli and international companies that profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights.

I first became concerned with the situation in Israel and Palestine when I visited the region in the early 2000s, while serving a three-year term with the Mennonite Central Committee in Egypt. That interest intensified last fall, when our church hosted a weekly presentation series led by a member of our congregation. He told us about his trip to Israel and Palestine at the invitation of a group of Palestinian Christians. And he showed us video presentations by nongovernmental organizations, children's rights advocates, and former Israeli soldiers about the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.

At the end of eight sessions, we talked about how boycotts, divestments, and sanctions could help bring about an end to the Israeli government’s occupation, in the same way those tactics helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa. I left the meeting with the conviction that I needed to do my part to support the Palestinian struggle for equality, even if it just meant not buying Sabra hummus or a SodaStream machine.

Then, on July 6, 2017, the Mennonite Church USA overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for peace in Israel and Palestine. It called on Mennonites “to take active and specific steps to redress” the “injustice and violence” that both Palestinians and Jews have experienced. And it urged us “to avoid the purchase of products associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation, including items produced in the settlements.” This resolution reaffirmed my decision to participate in the boycott.

Just a few days later, I got an email from an official at the Kansas State Department of Education. She said that, in order to participate in the state’s math training program, I would need to sign a certification stating that I don’t boycott Israel. Specifically, I would have to sign below the following statement:

“As an Individual or Contractor entering into a contract with the State of Kansas, it is hereby certified that the Individual or Company listed below is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

I was stunned. It seems preposterous that my decision to participate in a political boycott should have any effect on my ability to work for the state of Kansas.

After waiting for several weeks and considering my options, I emailed back and told the official I could not sign the certificate as a matter of conscience.  Could I still participate in the state’s training program? She responded that, unfortunately, I could not. I needed to sign the certification in order to get paid.

I am challenging this law because I believe that the First Amendment protects my right, and the right of all Americans, to make consumer spending decisions based on their political beliefs. You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights. The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.

I am also sad that I cannot be a math trainer for the state of Kansas because of my political views about human rights across the globe. The two seem so distant and unrelated. My activism on behalf of freedom for all Israelis and Palestinians shouldn’t affect my ability to train math teachers. I hope this law will be recognized as a constitutional violation.

Esther Koontz is a curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet school in Wichita, Kansas, and a member of the Mennonite Church USA. The views expressed in this post are those of the author; the ACLU does not take a position on boycotts of Israel.

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Anonymous

Proud of the Mennonites!

Anonymous

Pride goes before the fall.

Anonymous

MIF, Goldman Sucks, Mnuchin, US tax payers money, US workers' effort that create profit for corporations. Individuals and corporations are sucking the billions of dollars out of this country to help the State of Israel progress, in the meantime the citizens of our country are broke.

End Apartheid

Thank you so much Esther Koontz for standing up to a brutal power that has so much influence here and is a cause for great polarisation in the middle east. Why is AIPAC not classified as a foreign agent? Why do they continue to support Johnathan Pollard who stole NSA secrets for Israel? We need to stand up for justice, hurray for ACLU!!

Baruch Goldstei...

So she doesn't like being boycotted? Pretty ironic. She also stole an Israelite name, that's cultural appropriation.

R. Joseph Abraham

You are as were they voicing against the persecution of the true Jews in Europe for the nearly 2,000 years that the true Jews were persecuted there. My advice to you under the circumstances is to let God deal with it. God isn't for evil doers, neither is the natural course of evolution as far as it goes.

Anonymous

The minority splinter group "MennoniteUSA" does not even have fellowship with the majority of Mennonites due to their radical embracing of gay marriage and ministers. They are the fringe "nuts" of the Mennonites, who are the larger radical group that claimed moral superiority above Catholic and Protestant Christians by invalidating a centuries old tradition that they share of infant baptism; teaching that it was invalid and had to be re-done as an adult. Can you imagine why they were seen as heretics and banished by the rest of Christianity? It was the same as saying if you or any of your ancestry were baptised as an infant and didn't get re-baptised by our Mennonites, then you are going to hell, and you are not a child of God. Understand it is the Mennonite moral superiority that is their tradition and culture. Like ISIS, IS-Iran, and other radical Islamic
Groups who want to destroy All who do not share their beliefs, the MennonitesUSA want to make their morally superior opinion known that Their Financial Services and insurance group EVERENCE is Siding with Islam to boycott Israel. I SAY STOP THE FRINGE NUTS AND BOYCOTT EVERENCE! Don't support them. The Federal Gov and over 20 States have laws restricting contracts from individuals and companies that boycott Israel. She should not work for the State of Kansas or the Federal Government because we have no obligation to hire her. Go to work for someone else. If you can't follow the rules you are out.

Dov Baer

So it’s OK for you to advocate for and continue a racist boycott of the Jewish State. But it’s not OK for Kansas to boycott racists such as yourself. Very progressive.

Karl

Do you also boycott Gaza and the Westbank because Hamas and Fatah are non-democratic terror supporting mobsters that violate the rights of the people living there, torture them, kill them and pay for murderers? Surely not. You are a pathetic hypocrite.

Anonymous

Just curious how it is you landed on boycotting Israel when your own country that you live in has committed far worse violence and apartheid against its own natives and its citizens of color. You profit in a system that stole its land while the remaining rightful settlers of this land suffer in reservations. While ancestors of former slaves deal with institutional racism and fear for being killed by police for no reason. You live on this land, pay for a home on it and participate in a system that actively abuses its most vulnerable. And yet you boycott Israel but not America.

I'm sorry, but either you're an idiot, or you're at least partially motivated by the anti-Semitic rhetoric you digested in Egypt and by the various Arabs who indoctrinated you.

Learn about the conflict from a two sided perspective - cause there are two sides - and deal with your own biases and ignorance.

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