January 30, 2018 Update: A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Kansas' enforcement of the law, writing that “[T]he Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.” Click here for more information.
On Wednesday the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging an anti-BDS law in Kansas.
The Kansas law requires prospective state contractors to certify that they do not support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian rights. The lawsuit challenges the Kansas law on First Amendment grounds, arguing that political boycotts, like boycotts for Palestinian rights, are protected by the First Amendment and that the state cannot condition government contracts on a First Amendment litmus test.
For years, Israel advocacy organizations have engaged in a number of tactics to silence and suppress speech critical of Israeli government policy and supportive of Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documented these efforts in a 2015 report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech (a 2016 update is available here).
Since 2014, as public support for Palestinian rights has grown, Israel advocacy organizations have increasingly turned to state lawmakers, pressuring them to enact anti-BDS laws. The leader of one Israel advocacy group boasted, “[w]hile you were doing your campus antics, the grown-ups were in the state legislature passing laws that make your cause improbable.” In many states, anti-BDS laws have passed with broad bipartisan support despite warnings from Palestine Legal and other civil liberties experts that the laws infringe on First Amendment-protected rights.
“This lawsuit, the first to challenge an anti-BDS law, will send a clear message to those Israel advocacy groups and legislators who have shown a willingness to trample on constitutional rights in order to shield Israel from criticism and accountability,” said Palestine Legal Director Dima Khalidi. “In the Trump era especially, we must vigilantly safeguard our right to dissent, including the First Amendment right to support boycotts for Palestinian rights. Elected officials should be in the business of safeguarding our constitutional rights, not legislating them away.”
Palestine Legal has worked with human rights activists across the country to oppose anti-BDS bills. While Kansas and 20 other states have enacted anti-BDS laws, activists have successfully defeated anti-BDS legislation in several other states, including Maryland, Virginia, and Montana.
Palestine Legal tracks anti-BDS legislation at www.righttoboycott.org.