Why Can’t I Represent Incarcerated Arizonians if I Boycott Israel?

Mik Jordahl on a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel.

This piece was originally published by The Arizona Daily Star.

Each year, I renew a contract to provide legal services to incarcerated people in an Arizona county jail.

I have been doing this for 12 years without complications. Lately, though, there has been some extra paperwork that has nothing to do with my work as an attorney. Now, in order to renew my contract, I am being asked to promise that I will not participate in a boycott of Israel.

Arizona adopted a law in 2016 that prohibits the state, along with any of its towns, cities or counties, from contracting with entities that support even the limited boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Local governmental contracts throughout Arizona now contain this political litmus test.

By design, this pledge inhibits my constitutionally protected right to protest injustices as I see them and spend my money where and how I please if I want to keep doing a job that I care about.

For many years, almost every country in the world has deemed Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be in violation of international law. Yet our government will be giving $40 billion in taxpayer assistance to Israel over the next 10 years and won’t withhold even a portion of that funding, in spite of continuing settlement expansion and its devastating effect on a two-state solution.

My interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue isn’t new. I have visited the region previously. I raised a Jewish son. Last spring, he and I traveled together to Israel and Palestine. We met journalists, human rights advocates, Israelis, and Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. No one we talked to believed that Israel would ever dismantle the more than 100 Israeli settlements peppered through the West Bank. It was painfully clear to us that Israel will not stop, and in fact has accelerated, its de facto policy of permanent Israeli occupation. On the other hand, it will never allow equal rights for the 2.8 million West Bank Palestinians in a single state.

In the face of U.S. financial support for Israel, the boycott movement has become one of the most effective forms of protest against Israel’s violations of international law. The boycott of settlement products and companies that support them has been formally endorsed, in one form or another, by Lutheran, Episcopalian, Mennonite, Methodist, Unitarian, Quaker, and Presbyterian denominations, as well as organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the World Council of Churches, and Amnesty International.

Rational minds can disagree on whether the movement to boycott the occupation is effective or even appropriate. But do our Arizona legislators need to chip away at our First Amendment rights to express our opinions on this issue? By this logic, what would limit Arizona’s legislature from deciding they won’t do business with people and companies that support a boycott of Trump family businesses, or tobacco companies, or even the Democratic Party?

From the Montgomery bus boycott to boycotts of apartheid-era South Africa, this peaceful form of protest has long been protected by the Constitution. No matter where you stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine, it should be clear that we as individuals have a right to engage in peaceful individual boycotts and a right to not spend our private monies in the way we choose.

Mik Jordahl is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit recently filed by the ACLU challenging Arizona’s anti-boycott law. He is a practicing lawyer. 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 am an ardent Zionist and believer in the right of the Jewish people to a state in their historic homeland and vehemently oppose the BDS movement and all it stands for -- but I also agree with you that it is not the business of the State of Arizona to legislate which appallingly racist views and organizations I choose to support . . . .

Rabster

What if everyone took back their "historic" homeland? Why should one group get away with something nobody else can? I can't go to Switzerland, remove a Swiss family and take their land. Besides how do you prove which Jews have an actual "historic" tie? Many European Jews have no genetic tie to Israel.

Anonymous

It is mind-bogglinglu outrageous that this law could possibly exist in our democracy. The right wing won’t be satisfied until it has usurped all our freedoms.

Anonymous

America!, land of the free, so long as you are prepared to have zero integrity and support a rogue nation like Israel for your own vested interests.

Anonymous

rouge????? Hardly

Anonymous

How did this law ever get passed in the first place?

Anonymous

As a strong supporter of Israel and any other peace-seeking nation, Arizona officials should realize that standing up for individual liberties - which they swore an oath of office to follow - advances freedom.

One could also make a strong argument that if 1930's German officials had a supreme loyalty oath to the constitutional "rule of law" that protected individual liberties - instead of a top loyalty oath to a single person or single party - Hitler and the Holocaust would have never gained power in such a loyalty system.

In Germany during World War Two: citizens, soldiers, police, prison guards and clerks swore loyalty to Hitler. That was the government culture of loyalty that created the Holocaust.

That's why it's vitally important that well-meaning and good employees in America's most secret national security agencies - like the FBI, CIA and NSA - remember that they swore supreme loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Not a single American official or contractor swore loyalty to the nation directly or to any other group directly. Not a single American police officer ever swore a legally binding oath "to protect & serve". It would be unconstitutional for such an oath to supersede the constitutional oath in their job duties and authorities.

What should concern every American today is that we imprisoned legal whistleblowers and grossly exploited the Espionage Act to punish officials and contractors that were loyal to their supreme oath of office. It should concern everyone that oath-sworn officials have targeted journalists and a free press in violation of their solemn oath.

If you want to counter enemies to Israel and other peace-seeking nations, advancing a culture of loyalty to individual freedoms is the greatest weapon - not betraying America's Oath of Office. Maybe we need an "International Bill of Rights" with international enforcement?

Dr. Timothy Leary

That's how it all starts. Today it's a boycott, tomorrow it will be a pogrom.

Anonymous

Nonsense, not every action against the state of Israel is antisemitism, it's just raising a voice against clearly visible apartheid policies. Learn to differentiate.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Why not boycott France? They are a bunch of cheese cutting, surrender monkeys.

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