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ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Kansas Law which Targets Boycott of Israel

posted on: Oct 18, 2017

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Kansas Law which Targets Boycott of Israel

By Michaela Schrum/Contributing Writer

Ester Koontz, a science and math curriculum coach in Wichita, Kansas has filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a Kansas law (HB 2409) discussed during an emergency legislative session for education in June.  According to the Kansas State Legislature, the new law says that “The state must require written certification from all individuals and companies with which it enters into contracts for services, supplies, information technology, or construction that the individual or company is not engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

This is the first time that a federal lawsuit has sought to challenge a state law against the boycott movement, which is more commonly referred to as the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction). The BDS movement encourages people to boycott and divest in Israeli and international companies that operate in Israeli settlements of the West Bank. These settlements are recognised as illegal under international law, but Israel continues to expand into the West Bank, thus destroying Palestinian homes, farms, and businesses.

Koontz is a member of the Mennonite Church of the United States and the wife of a pastor. Her church passed a resolution which openly supported the boycott for companies that profit from the human rights violations conducted by the Israeli military against Palestinians. Because of this resolution, Koontz chose to boycott.

On ACLU’s page on Koontz, she details: “I got an email from an official at the Kansas State Department of Education. She said that, in order to participate in the state’s math training program, I would need to sign a certification stating that I don’t boycott Israel. Specifically, I would have to sign below the following statement:

“As an Individual or Contractor entering into a contract with the State of Kansas, it is hereby certified that the Individual or Company listed below is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel”.

She responded to the email saying that she could not sign the certification in good conscience. According to an interview with the New York Times, Koontz wanted to do this to “support the Palestinian’s struggle for equality.” A couple weeks later, she e-mailed state officials her decision and they responded that she would need to sign the certification in order to be paid for her work.  

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Kansas Law which Targets Boycott of Israel

It is notable as well that this bill passed during an emergency session for education in Kansas. Here,  several state officials described Israel as an important trade partner with Kansas which allegedly exports $56 million worth of products while importing over $83 million. It’s interesting to mention that the state’s governor, Sam Brownback, visited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel early this September.

Doug Bonney, the Legal Director Emeritus of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas remarked that it was an odd time to bring the anti-BDS bill forward, as the special session was about education in Kansas. Bonney noted that anti-BDS movement laws are cropping up all around the country.

Currently 21 states have anti-BDS laws and the federal congress has a similar bill that has not been passed yet.

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Kansas Law which Targets Boycott of Israel

This situation reminded Bonney of the MccArthy era and the red scare, when employers had their employees sign “loyalty oaths”. “This [situation]” he says, “ is a loyalty oath.”

When asked what he would like the American people to remember about this case going forward, Bonney quoted a passage from West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette. This legal case protected students from being forced to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

He stated “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Koontz states “My activism on behalf of freedom for all Israelis and Palestinians shouldn’t affect my ability to train math teachers. I hope this law will be recognized as a constitutional violation.”

We, here at Arab America, couldn’t agree more and wish Koontz and the ACLU the best of luck.

To find out if your elected representatives support your right to boycott, click HERE.