Update on Legislative Efforts to Censor Palestine Advocacy in the U.S.

Top left: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards; top right: South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster; bottom left: Kenneth Marcus, President Trump's nominee to head the Office for Civil Rights at the Dept. of Education; bottom right: U.S. Senator Bob Casey, one of the lead sponsors of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

Top left: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards; top right: South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster; bottom left: Kenneth Marcus, President Trump's nominee to head the Office for Civil Rights at the Dept. of Education; bottom right: U.S. Senator Bob Casey, one of the lead sponsors of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

Palestine Legal continues to monitor and respond to legislative efforts at the state and federal level aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy.

The fact that 25 states now have legislation targeting advocacy for Palestinian rights indicates the level to which private anti-Palestinian forces are influencing our public institutions to intimidate and punish advocacy for Palestinian rights.

Despite this overwhelming and largely bipartisan legislative assault, we are seeing important victories against these legislative attempts, both in the legislatures and in the courts. It reminds us how important it is to make sure our elected officials, the media and our friends and colleagues understand why we oppose these draconian measures, and how supporting them means sacrificing our constitutional rights to shield Israel from criticism. At a time when Israel is targeting peaceful protesters with impunity, we cannot allow our elected officials to silence our efforts to hold Israel accountable.

Below is an overview of some recent legislative developments.

Members of Congress Reintroduce the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

Last week, members of Congress announced the reintroduction of the unconstitutional Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA). This federal legislation would codify an overbroad and widely criticized definition of antisemitism, one that classifies criticism of Israel to be inherently antisemitic (click here for a detailed FAQ on this antisemitism definition). The ASAA directs the federal Department of Education (DOE) to use this problematic definition of antisemitism when investigating possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act stemming from alleged incidents of antisemitism on college campuses. Such investigations will be adjudicated by none other than Kenneth Marcus, Trump’s nominee to head the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, who has spearheaded efforts to silence campus activism for Palestinian rights through Title VI complaints, and has lobbied for such legislation codifying the redefinition of antisemitism.

For more information about the ASAA, and to take action, click here.

South Carolina Legislature Passes Law Aimed at Censoring Palestine Advocacy on Campuses

For two years, a state version of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy at public colleges and universities in South Carolina, failed to pass due to First Amendment concerns. This year, the problematic language passed the legislature after it was inserted as a provision of a larger budget bill. The provision, which will be in effect for one year beginning July 1, codifies an overbroad definition of antisemitism, including “applying double standards” of Israel “by requiring of it behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” and directs public colleges and universities to use that definition when investigating alleged incidents of antisemitism on campus.

Palestine Legal is working with students and professors in South Carolina to monitor the bill’s implementation. If you are a student or academic in South Carolina, and are interested in working with us to monitor the implementation of this unconstitutional legislation, please contact us.

Louisiana Governor Issues Anti-Boycott Executive Order

Last week, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, issued an executive order barring state agencies from entering into a procurement contract with any vendor that participates in a boycott of Israel. Similar to the laws being challenged in Kansas and Arizona, the order requires prospective vendors to certify in writing that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel and that they will not participate in such a boycott for the duration of the contract.

Edward’s order makes Louisiana the 25th state with a law or executive order on the books that targets First Amendment-protected boycotts for Palestinian rights, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Activists Defeat Anti-Boycott Bill in Missouri

Also last week, an anti-boycott bill was defeated in Missouri when the legislature wrapped up its 2018 legislative session without passing the bill. In a press release announcing the victory, grassroots human rights groups noted that the bill had stalled in the Senate:

when staunch civil liberties advocate GOP Sen. Rob Schaaf filibustered the bill, introducing amendments that would add every country in the world to ensure Israel was not singled out for special protective treatment. Schaaf went through the list of nations alphabetically, describing in great detail exports and possible concerns with their policies. Two hours later, when he reached the Bahamas, Sen. Kehoe withdrew the bill from debate.

Palestine Legal issued a memo opposing the Missouri bill. Missouri isn’t the first state where an anti-boycott bill failed. Activists in Massachusetts defeated an anti-boycott bill earlier this year.

Federal Court Hears A.C.L.U. Challenges to Arizona Anti-Boycott Law

Last week, A.C.L.U. lawyers asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to block Arizona from enforcing it’s unconstitutional anti-boycott law. The Arizona law, enacted in 2016, requires state contractors to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. The A.C.L.U. represents attorney Mikkel Jordahl, who has contracted with the state for twelve years to provide legal services to inmates at Coconino County Jail. Because Jordahl participates in political boycotts of settlement goods and services and wants to extend his boycott to his solely-owned law firm, he did not sign the anti-boycott certification required to extend his contract with the state.

The Arizona anti-boycott law is similar to a law in Kansas that was blocked by a federal judge in January. After the federal judge issued a preliminary injunction halting Kansas’ enforcement of its anti-boycott laws, lawmakers introduced a bill to amend the law to make the lawsuit moot.