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US appeals court rules that laws against Israel boycotts don’t violate Constitution

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(JTA) – A US federal appeals court upheld an Arkansas state law requiring all public contractors to promise they won’t boycott Israel in a Wednesday ruling, overturning an earlier decision that had said the contract violates the First Amendment.

The ruling by the St. Louis-based US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit was a major victory for pro-Israel activists who have pushed around 30 states to adopt so-called “anti-BDS” laws — intended to strike back against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel — in recent years. The plaintiffs say they plan to appeal to the US Supreme Court, a process that could result in a nationwide showdown over the constitutionality of all anti-boycott laws.

It was the first time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of laws forbidding public contractors from being involved in any Israel boycott movements.

Such laws have been heavily opposed by civil liberties groups and press freedom advocates, who say they violate free speech. Federal courts have previously ruled that similar anti-boycott state laws in Georgia, Arizona, Kansas and Texas are unconstitutional.

But the Eighth Circuit, minus one dissenting judge, found that an anti-boycott contract provision does not infringe on the signer’s free speech rights because it “does not require them to publicly endorse or disseminate a message.” Instead, the court said, the clause requests “compliance” with a financial regulation — which the court says is a form of “noncommunicative” speech not protected by the First Amendment. The Eighth Circuit is considered to have a conservative makeup.

Arkansas had introduced the law in 2017, and the public University of Arkansas was sued by Little Rock-based alt-weekly The Arkansas Times in 2018. The paper had sued the university because its Pulaski Technical College affiliate, a regular advertiser with the paper, had refused to continue advertising unless The Arkansas Times signed the anti-boycott pledge,........

© The Times of Israel

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