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

I don't necessarily share Esther's views. (I'm not boycotting Israeli anything.) But I find it appalling that the State of Kansas can condition employment on the basis of political beliefs.

Anonymous

Kansas is an employ at will state. The legislature passed a law that puts conditions on who they will not contract with, similar to other states and the Federal gov. It was meant to keep contractors, like EVERENCE, from receiving contracts that would promote economic warfare against our allies. Surely she doesn't personally engage in any signification boycott activities, but to push her racist agenda she claims that she is a Mennonite and that she is boycotting Israel. She really did not want the job or she would have not forced the escape clause. I guess if an employer made a rule that if you kneel during the National Anthem you will be terminated, you would not kneel if you wanted to keep your job. No one owes you a contract. I can't believe you are actually an educator. I hope you can do something else with the two day seminar that you believe makes you indespensible as a couch.

Unknown

Don't really care about Palestinian sh1tskins but k1ke control over our people is ridiculous and needs to end.

Metadoc

The problem is Koontz wasn’t educated on the issue, she had extended propaganda without fully understanding or appreciating the history and politics of the region. She got her information (by her own admission in this article) from the Palestinians and the Mennonites. Did she also visit the Israeli families still grieving from the terrorism perpetrated? Or read the history of 1936 and the Arab attempts to ethnically cleanse Jews from Israel? Or understand how the great Arab nations inflicted wars on Israel that Israel didn’t want? Or ask why Gaza and the West Bank didn’t become a state before 1967 when the Arabs had the chance? Or appreciate the embrace Israelis gave the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties, even though Egypt and Jordan citizens rarely visit Israel - it’s a cold, one-sided peace among the people of Egypt and Jordan - thousands of Israeli tourists to Egypt and Jordan, few the other way?

It’s not only this US administration which puts out false facts. It’s also folks like Koontz who based her views on propaganda. And the ACLU has also drunk the Kool-Aid here by defending her on what has clearly been legal grounds by states to determine with whom they will contract. As another commentator stated on this site, she had the freedom of speech to speak out; it doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

Jake Janzen

"the history of 1936 and the Arab attempts to ethnically cleanse Jews from Israel"
There they were. The innocent dove Jews in the British Mandate. When out of no where, for no reason than their own demonic nature, the Arabs attempted to ethnically cleanse them from (what wasn't yet) Israel.

I'm glad you reference the history here, Metadoc. But the "one-sided" nature of your description doesn't include other summaries that I have read. To say that the Arab riots in the 20's and 30's were an attempt to cleanse is a bit of an over-statement. The Jews that were being protested against weren't the same Jews who had lived at peace with them for hundreds of years. They were recent immigrants, and they weren't there just minding their own business. They came in against British law, claimed public lands for themselves without paying for it, and defended their claims with illegal weapons. They knew that their actions would cause a reaction, which is why they built tower & stockades in the middle of the night.

Anonymous

You are absolutely entitled to your own political opinion. I frankly don't know why your politics seems to have something to do with training math teachers. However, I will pose this question to you: Are you boycotting American, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, or Mexican sold goods as all of these countries have systematically exploited workers for generations? Genuinely curious to hear your response.

Lacie

Please explain to me this reasoning. We live in a red state thats almost 100% gop. Those of us that arent gop constantly go up against their backwards beliefs.... point being you knew going into this that there was a chance something was going to crop up making one thing difficult because of another politically speaking. Youre bitching and complaining because they knew you are Mennonite and used it against you... first rule of thumb keep your mouth closed about your religion while youre at work.... second rule of thumb you want to create change find that pocket of people who ARE the different races religions and political parties and get us to ban together so we can fight for the change together instead of one person against a multitude.

Jake Janzen

"keep your mouth closed about your religion while youre at work."

It isn't like she was going around trying to evangelize people. A signed statement was demanded of her. Her choices were to tell the truth and face the consequences... or to lie.

Stanley Cohen

I once held beliefs similar to Esther Koontz (the author of this article). But then I visited Israel (including the Palestinian territories) and I received an eyeful The Palestinians in general are a blood-thirsty people who sole goal is to kill Jews. I have since changed my mind on this topic. Ms. Koontz. you are getting what you deserve. You are truly an anti-Semite, and I guess that your German background plays a part.

Anonymous

She is getting what she wants, and the ACLU is picking up the tab for her court case. What is her point? She wants to fight against the Gov. because she knows more about foreign policy then an elected state legislators who passed a law that effects no one except individuals and companies that are in economic war with our allies. Companies and individules can be required to follow laws that they don't agree with as a condition for government funding.

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