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Boycotting boycotts

Sen. Marco Rubio introduces pro-Israel legislation

Sen. Marco Rubio Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

Boycotting boycotts

Pro-Palestine advocates blasted the first piece of legislation filed in the 116th U.S. Senate, while critics chided its author, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for promoting legislation that would protect Israel’s economic interests instead of a focusing on ending the partial government shutdown.

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement attempts to cause economic and political damage to Israel by boycotting companies that do business with the Middle East nation and urging the companies to end those relationships.

“They forgot what country they represent,” said freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., in a Jan. 6 tweet criticizing Rubio’s bill. Tlaib is a Palestinian-American who grew up in Detroit and supports the BDS movement. An election night photo showed her embracing a supporter who wrapped a Palestinian flag around her. (Tlaib found herself in the news recently when she referred to President Donald Trump using an obscenity.)

Twenty-six states have pro-Israel laws that prohibit government contracts with companies that participate in the BDS movement. One portion of Rubio’s four-part Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 would provide a legal defense for those laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union claims the pro-Israel, anti-BDS laws stifle free speech. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled participants in nonviolent boycotts in segregated Claiborne County, Miss., lawfully exercised their First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, and petition. Last year, the ACLU successfully sued Arizona and Kansas to keep those states from firing contractors that boycott Israel. A defendant in the Kansas case was a Mennonite teacher who follows her church’s guidance to “avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories” but lost an opportunity to become a math curriculum coach because of her anti-Israel views. In December, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging a similar law that Texas enacted in 2017.

“Whatever you may think about boycotts of Israel, the bottom line is that political boycotts are a legitimate form of nonviolent protest,” ACLU attorney Edgar Saldivar said in a statement about the Texas lawsuit. “The state cannot use the contracting process as an ideological litmus test or to tell people what kind of causes they may or may not support.”

Opponents of the BDS movement decry it as discriminatory—even anti-Semitic—and an attempt to undermine the economic stability of a U.S. ally.

Texas state Rep. Phil King, a Republican who co-authored the state’s pro-Israel law, said it only narrowly regulates discriminatory commercial activity. “Texas’ anti-BDS law does not infringe on any individual or company’s right to express anti-Israel views or to boycott Israel,” he told me. “However, that doesn’t mean our taxpayer dollars will be allowed to subsidize discrimination by companies that boycott Israel.”

In his remarks from the U.S. Senate floor last week, Rubio pushed back against the charge that the pro-Israel laws prohibit legal boycotts. “All it says is that if you do, your clients, in the form of state or local governments, can boycott or divest from you in return,” he said. “Free speech is a two-way street.”

During a time of partisan political rancor, the laws against the boycotting of Israel enjoy bipartisan support. Only four state senators in Texas opposed the bill, and it passed the Texas House 141-0. In the U.S. Senate last year, Rubio and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., co-authored the Combatting BDS Act of 2017. It earned 48 Senate co-sponsors: 15 Democrats and 33 Republicans. A House version had 141 co-sponsors, including 34 Democrats.

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips YouTube/ADF

Hostile work environment

A U.S. District Court on Jan. 4 allowed Colorado baker Jack Phillips to proceed with a lawsuit against the state for hostility toward him and his religious beliefs. Colorado moved to prosecute Phillips for declining to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition despite the Supreme Court’s June 2018 ruling in his favor in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involved protecting his right to not create a cake for a same-sex wedding on religious grounds.

“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending Phillips.

That agency, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, filed a formal complaint against Phillips after an attorney said Phillips refused to make him a cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside, which was designed to celebrate a transition from male to female. The same attorney later asked Phillips to design a cake with Satanic themes, which he also refused.

The Supreme Court said in June that the state could not treat Phillips differently than other bakers who decline custom projects based on their messages. The U.S. District Court in Colorado found sufficient evidence of ongoing unequal treatment of Phillips by the commission to allow his case to move forward. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips YouTube/ADF

Banning bans

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower court ruling that government officials can’t block users from social media accounts they use for official business.

Phyllis J. Randall, the chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia, created a Facebook page to release information and interact with her constituents. In February 2016, a constituent suggested in a comment that the school board engaged in corruption. The chairwoman banned the user, then reconsidered, and removed the ban the next day.

The courts found that since Randall listed her title, displayed her county contact information, and used the page to post information specific to her position, she violated her constituent’s First Amendment rights by blocking him from the page.

The case could have broader implications for the world of social media—particularly for President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. A U.S. District Court in March ruled the president violated the First Amendment when he blocked someone on Twitter. The case is headed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. —R.L.A.

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips YouTube/ADF

Religious test in Texas?

Texas trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member Shahid Shafi will keep his position as vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party after a motion to remove him was defeated 139-49 in a vote last week. The reason for the vote? Shafi is Muslim. Some local Republicans said he should not serve as vice chairman because his minority religious views were not representative of the beliefs of most county residents.

Some of the state’s top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and state party Chairman James Dickey, condemned the attempted ouster, The Texas Tribune reported.

“As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans,” Shafi said Thursday. “We need to learn to trust each other so we can create a more perfect union every day.”

Shafi became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 2009 after immigrating from Pakistan in 1990. —R.L.A.

Fired firefighter finds relief

A former Washington state firefighter fired in 2012 for using his work email to coordinate a Christian fellowship group at his workplace finally received a settlement from his past employers, KREM-TV reported. Jon Sprague won his First Amendment case before the Washington Supreme Court about a year ago, but he and the Spokane Valley Fire Department only just reached an agreement on damages. The department agreed to a $1 million payout plus retirement benefits. —R.L.A.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.


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