The Right to Boycott Is Under Threat

This article was originally published at Haaretz.

The First Amendment squarely protects the right to boycott. Lately, though, a legislative assault on that right has been spreading through the United States –  designed to stamp out constitutionally protected boycotts of Israel.

In a landmark decision from 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that an NAACP boycott of white-owned businesses in Mississippi, to protest segregation and racial injustice, was a protected form of free association and free expression. As the court recognized, political boycotts empower individuals to collectively express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and advocate for political, social, and economic change. These are precisely the freedoms the Constitution is meant to protect.

Yet over the past several years, state and federal legislatures have considered dozens of bills, and in some cases passed laws, in direct violation of this important ruling. These bills and laws vary in numerous respects, but they share a common goal of scaring people away people from participating in boycotts meant to protest Israeli government policies, including what are known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

Today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging one of those laws — a Kansas statute requiring state contractors to sign a statement certifying that they do not boycott Israel, including boycotts of companies profiting off settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. People have very strong feelings on all sides of this issue. The ACLU takes no position for or against campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country, but we have long defended the right to participate in political boycotts. We must do so again.

We are representing a veteran math teacher and trainer from Kansas who was told she would need to sign the certification statement in order to participate in a state program training other math teachers. Our client is a member of the Mennonite Church USA. In response to calls for boycott by the church and members of her congregation, she has decided not to buy consumer goods and services offered by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Our client is boycotting to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and to pressure the government to change its policies.

Earlier this year, our client was selected to participate as a contractor in a statewide training program run by the Kansas Department of Education. She was excited to use her skills to help train math teachers throughout the state, but when she was presented with a form requiring her to certify that she “is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel,” she told the state that she could not sign the form in good conscience. As a result, the state refuses to let her participate in the program.

Kansas’s law, and others like it, violates the Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing one side of a public debate. That means it cannot impose ideological litmus tests or loyalty oaths as a condition on hiring or contracting. This principle was famously tested in the McCarthy era, when many state laws required government employees to declare they were not members of the Communist Party or other “subversive groups” in order to keep their jobs. The ACLU successfully challenged many of those laws on constitutional grounds, and anti-Communist loyalty tests have been mostly relegated to the dustbin of history. The same rule applies when the government asks someone to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel.

Kansas should not be dictating political orthodoxy for its contractors. Although the government may impose reasonable restrictions on employee or contractor speech when it relates to their job duties or causes disruption in the workplace, people do not lose the right to participate in politics or speak out on issues of public concern just because they get paid by the state. By requiring all state contractors to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel, Kansas’s law unconstitutionally disqualifies people from working for the state based on protected expression and association that has nothing to do with their jobs.

From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign to divest from businesses operating in apartheid South Africa, political boycotts have been a proud part of this country’s constitutional tradition. That’s why the ACLU has opposed anti-boycott bills in state legislatures for the past several years. That’s why we’ve come out against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act in Congress. And that’s why we’re suing to challenge Kansas’s unconstitutional anti-boycott law.

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robert zionater



too bad for you. #BDS is best. History repeats itself. It's just your time. Palestinians, Syrians are all Semites. Get over yourself and the Zionist self obsession. Nobody is listening to your lies.


What about the civil rights of Jews? Have you ever sued anyone who shouted down Jewish speakers on a campus? Have you ever sued anyone who did not let (invited) Israeli speakers enter a venue where he was supposed to speak and "students" with Keffias on their faces so they could not be recognized screamed obscenities at them? You sue somebody who is against racism, calls for the murder of Jews? That's free speech? You would have defended Hitler's for the Final Solution, would you ACLU? How unreal can you get, ACLU?


This is about a country violating international agreements and using military force to take over another country's land. Plain and simple. The fact that the country in question is an ethnostate and under a singular religion has no bearing on our opposition to its governmental policies. We have the right to oppose this atrocity through peaceful boycott. I remember once when a country went and took another by force once. Then a world war happened. Because people hated Germany anyways. But "Our only ally in the Middle East"? Oh they can do no wrong, its impossible! Nope. We arent going to fall for the horse and pony show. We cut straight to the facts and make it extremely clear that this is aboit a government policy, and would be done to any other country we see appropriate if the time comes. No crying Nazi.


Anonymous #2 wrote: "This is about a country violating international agreements and using military force to take over another country's land. Plain and simple." Anonymous is assuming what needs to be proven. Israel taking over another country's land?

History records that there never was a Palestinian country. Jews lived thousands of years on the land before the Moslem invasion and occupation in 635 CE and the capture of Jerusalem two years later in 637. There has been an unbroken Jewish presence in Israel even after the Roman dispersion of 70 CE. Furthermore, in keeping with the laws governing territorial claims, as the Jews never signed a treaty giving any part of their territory to any occupying power and as they ever cede their claim to their land, not only are they the duly constituted indigenous peoples of the land, they are also entitled to all of their unceded ancestral homeland.

Notice how the right of an indigenous people to their own self determination is one Social Justice Warriors champion for all Indigenous peoples around the world -- except for Jews. By definition this discrimination puts them in the class of anti-Semites. Something to ponder before rushing to denounce Jews for suing for their right to national self-determination.

Anonymous #3


The Jews are not the indigenous people of that land. According to the Jewish bible, they carried out a campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing against those that were living there long before they arrived and took their land.

Secondly Muslim presence on that land goes back 1400 years, many people converted to Islam among Jews & Christians that were already living there, and as such they have just as much right to be living on that land as Jews do.

You sit there and attempt to white wash the entire history of the Palestinian people as if they never existed.

The Palestinian people existed prior to the State of Israel. They had their own culture, literature, cinema, and people like you white wash it as if they are a fictitious made up people who are squatting and that people that never lived on that land until they came from Europe or America have greater right to live there than they do.

That is cultural genocide.

So kindly spare us this Nazi card BS and pathetically attempting to equate the boycott of Israel to the Nazi boycott of Jews. They are not the same.

Israeli settlements are illegal under International Law. This has been reaffirmed over again. They are built on land seized from Palestinians. They are profiting off of land they seized from Palestinians. Israel's human rights record against the Palestinian people is abominable.

Israels human rights atrocious records against detained Palestinian children is well documented by many NGO's like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Israel's own NGO's.

Israeli politicians openly incite against Arabs.

Settler crimes against Arabs is rarely ever prosecuted.
Israeli law openly discriminates against its Arab population.

Jews can readily get permits to build homes, for Arabs, its next to impossible to do so.

Reasons like this are WHY BDS exist. This has gone on for 50+ years. This has nothing to do with them being Jewish. They are not boycotted for being JEWISH.

And to respond to your other point. You are more than welcome to organize a global movement to boycott Muslim countries because of their oppression of the LGBT community. No one is stopping you. Though unlike that, we don't have a foreign country i.e Israel waging a relentless smear campaign and influencing law makers to actively stop a legal boycott against them from taking place, and actively silencing those that speak out against them. That is more expected of a dictatorship in NOrth Korea or Middle Eastern countries, not 1 that loves to boast about being the only democratic state in the Middle East.


Israel's "final solution" for eight million Palestinians is an extermination camp called Gaza.


As a card caring member of the ACLU, I applaud the ACLU's stance here. Defending free speech is what we do. The ACLU would be the first to defend the civil rights of Jews.......and Christians.....and Buddhists.........and Muslims....... If you just want YOUR speech protected and the speech of those you disagree with then you don't understand American principles, the Constitution or the ACLU.


So does that mean the ACLU believes it is ok to boycott all majority Muslim countries? What about a business boycotting gay people? Of course not. It's only ok to boycott Jews.


This isnt about race. The fact that Israel is an ethnostate is irrelevant. This is about disagreeing with the policy of a nations government. How is Israels military takeover of Gaza any different from any other country invading another? Say oh... Germany, and hmmm Poland? The lines were drawn, and Israel just said, Oy! Well, our religion says differently, so we don't have to follow your rules. Now either look the other way or you're an antisemitic Nazi! This behavior would not be tolerated by any other country. Everyone in the civilized world would be supporting the boycott unanimously. This is no different. Again. Its not our fault Israel is an ethnostate, that has nothing to do with it.


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