In a decision that tramples on free speech rights, a federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld an Arkansas law that prevents state contractors from boycotting Israel. The law is clearly aimed at the growing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) movement. In addition to being an unconstitutional attack on free speech generally, the law specifically aims to undermine support of the fight of the Palestinian people to be free.
The BDS movement aims to exert pressure on the apratheid state of Israel, and its allies, to end the horrific violence being enacted on the Palestinian people as part of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The law that was upheld in Arkansas allows companies to be penalized if they are determined to be participating in a boycott of Israel, which can include companies who have voiced criticisms of Israel, encouraged boycotts of Israel, or criticized the anti-BDS law itself.
Arkansas isn’t the only state to pass anti-BDS legislation – a number of other state governments, both Democrat and Republican-led, have passed similar anti-BDS laws. While the crackdown on the criticism of Israel is horrendous in-and-of-itself, these laws have significant implications on advocacy around other issues as well. Lawmakers could use these laws as a template to suppress companies complying with any type of boycott that threatens the status quo, or puts the profits of the elites at risk. This has already been seen in bills introduced to discourage and criminalize boycotts of the fossil fuel industry, modeled after prevailing anti-BDS legislation.
Following the appeals court ruling, the Supreme Court has the power to step in to protect free speech and the right to political boycotts by striking down these anti-BDS laws. However, historically and especially recently, the Supreme Court is far more concerned with restricting and revoking the rights of oppressed people, rather than protecting the right to advocate for justice. It is absolutely ridiculous and undemocratic that unelected officials in lifetime appointments have this power. Nobody, but especially not a handful of undemocratically chosen elites whose focus and number one priority is to protect the ruling class, should be able to take away our rights to free speech, to bodily autonomy, to voting – or to anything else.
Everyone who believes in human rights and dignity for all people should support the BDS movement and stand with the people of Palestine against the apartheid state of Israel. Supporting BDS helps to target the financial strength of Israel and its allies, helps to bring attention to the fight in Palestine, and sheds light on the horrors inflicted on the Palestinian people. The more the BDS movement can isolate Israeli corporations, institutions, and organizations – the more economic setbacks and disruptions it can cause – the harder it will be for Israel to maintain its oppression of the Palestinian people.