Limitations on free speech regarding Palestine in the US

Lina B.

Date published: Thu, 28 July 22

Over the past years, law after law targeting Palestinian boycott in different US states have been the subject of ACLU fight to the Supreme Court. 

In June, a federal appeals court upheld an Arkansas law that bars state contractors from boycotting Israel. The Arkansas Times sued Arkansas over the boycott law after refusing to sign a pledge that they would not engage in BDS. 

Bills targeting the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement have increased in past years according to Palestine Legal. In a documentary titled “Boycott,” it is explained that the Iraeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs established a propaganda project, Concert, as a public benefit corporation. This corporation was established to allow Israel to circumvent US laws on foreign interference in domestic legislation. The purpose of the corporation is to decrease growing support for the BDS movement worldwide. Through this corporation, Israel has funded millions of dollars to organizations that lobby for anti-BDS bills, such as Christians United for Israel, which is one of the largest lobbying groups for pro-Israel legislation. This group received $1.3 million from the Israeli government.

In New Jersey in 2016, the state assembly approved an anti-boycott bill to divest its pension funds from any company that was involved in a boycott of the state of Israel. This law now has been used to punish companies that have chosen to boycott Israel. Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would not sell its ice cream in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories and West Bank. After this announcement, New Jersey officials announced that the state would divest its pension fund from Ben & Jerry’s parent company – Unilever. Read more here about the Ben & Jerry’s situation. 

New Jersey and Arkansas are 2 out of 30 states that have passed anti-BDS laws, more than half of the US states. Defenders of these bills argue that these bills stop antisemitism, but advocacy groups argue that conflating criticism of Israel and antisemitism is an attempt to stop political advocacy for Palestinian human rights. These bills are a frightening reality in what the US protects – foreign governments over its citizens’ free speech. Boycotts have been used repeatedly by many groups of people fighting for their rights – by Black communities to fight against white supremacy in the US, in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the 1791 Sugar Boycott in Britain against slavery. Boycotts are a nonviolent and effective way to hold governments and institutions accountable, and the BDS movement is very important for Palestinians. Most people living outside of Palestine are urged to support BDS as one of the first steps towards Palestinian human rights and solidarity. For the US to not only pass bills limiting this freedom of expression and speech, but to fully enable, sanctify these laws, and penalize those who participate in Palestinian activism should be considered illegal, unconstitutional, and a rights violation.

What can you do? Research on anti-BDS and anti-Palestinian laws in your state, and call your representatives condemning the bills and future limitations of free speech!