The right to boycott is heading to the Supreme Court

I’m writing with breaking news. Today the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU has confirmed they will take the case to the Supreme Court, with huge implications for free speech and the right to boycott in the US. Our team has been following this case closely as one of the key stories chronicled in our latest film, Boycott.

The case centers around an Arkansas law that requires public contractors to sign a pledge promising that they do not boycott Israel. Versions of this law have been passed in 33 states since 2016. In recent years, several Americans have challenged these laws, suing their respective states for violating their First Amendment rights. In almost every case — from Texas to Arizona to Kansas to Georgia — the plaintiffs won, with courts finding the anti-boycott laws unconstitutional.

The only exception has been Arkansas, where Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, is the plaintiff. Alan originally lost in District Court but when he appealed to a three-judge panel at the Eighth Circuit, he won. The State of Arkansas was then granted a re-hearing. Today, the final ruling came out against Alan with the court deciding that boycotts, even when politically motivated, are strictly economic activity and not a form of expression. Brian Hauss, the ACLU’s chief litigator in the case has said that the decision “misreads Supreme Court precedent and departs from this nation’s long standing traditions.” He expressed hope that the Supreme Court “will set things right and reaffirm the nation’s historic commitment to providing robust protection to political boycotts.”

Alan believes that as a news publisher, he has a special duty to stand up for free speech rights. As he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed: “We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”

When we started filming Boycott, we understood there was a risk that the anti-boycott legislation vis-a-vis Israel could be used as a template. By the time we finished the film, this was already becoming a reality. There are now copycat bills targeting boycotts of fossil fuels, firearms, and other industries. As Alan’s case heads to the Supreme Court, it is not only advocacy for Palestinian rights, the environment or gun safety that stands on the line — but our very right to protest, and to band together for collective political action.

With the stakes increasingly high, we remain committed to sounding the alarm on this story, and you can help us. Share the news on social media, ask your go-to news outlet to cover this story, and get in touch to organize a screening of Boycott in your community. These laws have been able to pass with such ease in large part due to the lack of public scrutiny around its origins and implications. The time to change that is now.

Onwards,
Julia Bacha
Creative Director, Just Vision
Director, Boycott

Montgomery Bus Boycott, December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956


Rosa Parks sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Encyclopedia Britannica)


The boycott was organized by local ministers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. (PBS)

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on 1 December 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott was a 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional.

PUMA says it’s “complicated.” Palestinians say it’s apartheid.

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), April 13, 2022

Take action to thank Dua Lipa for standing up for Palestinian rights and urge her, as a prominent PUMA ambassador, to help convince PUMA to end complicity in Israel’s regime of apartheid.

    “These are the lives and homes of innocent people – the world needs to intervene and put a stop to this. No more ethnic cleansing!!!!!” — @dualipa

That’s what global star Dua Lipa posted to her 80M followers on Instagram last May following apartheid Israel’s escalation of violence against Indigenous Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem and elsewhere.

When smeared by right-wing, racist extremist Shmuley Boteach in a full-page ad in the New York Times, she didn’t back down.  She tweeted:

    “I stand in solidarity with all oppressed people and reject all forms of racism.” — @dualipa

Dua Lipa is a prominent PUMA ambassador. PUMA must listen to her.

As Israel once again escalates its violence against Palestinians, thank Dua Lipa for her stand and urge her to help convince PUMA to end complicity in Israel’s regime of apartheid.

Dua Lipa, help us push PUMA over to the right side of history.

PUMA is the main sponsor of the Israel Football Association, which governs and advocates for teams in illegal Israeli settlements dispossessing Palestinians. 

PUMA’s own internal memo shows its ambassadors are alarmed over its role in Israeli apartheid. But PUMA says it’s “complicated.”

Urge Dua Lipa to join Palestinians, Amnesty International and a growing consensus globally. 

Dua Lipa, Palestinians know it’s not complicated.
PUMA supports Israeli apartheid.

Dua Lipa is a vocal supporter of justice for all.

Fans at Dua Lipa’s concerts in Manchester and Dublin have urged her to take her principled stand to PUMA. 

Join them by taking action online today.

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April 25, 2022: Wisconsin Premiere of the Film Boycott

Just Vision’s new documentary, Boycott, will have its Wisconsin Premiere at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, April 25 at 5:45pm. Boycott follows the stories of a news publisher, an attorney and a speech therapist, who, when forced to choose between their jobs and their political beliefs, launch legal battles that expose an attack on freedom of speech across America.

The film traces the impact of state legislation passed in 33 states – including Wisconsin – designed to penalize individuals and companies that choose to boycott Israel due to its human rights record. A legal thriller with “accidental plaintiffs” at the center of the story, Boycott is a bracing look at the far-reaching implications of anti-boycott legislation and an inspiring tale of everyday Americans standing up to protect our rights in an age of shifting politics and threats to freedom of speech.

We call hypocrisy on PUMA

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), April 6, 2022

PUMA enacted swift measures to hold Russia accountable for its illegal weeks-long military invasion of Ukraine. Yet PUMA has been hiding behind the flimsy excuse of not getting involved in politics for years now to justify its ongoing support for Israel’s decades-long apartheid regime. Take action now to call out PUMA’s hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy.

That’s the only way to describe PUMA’s actions.

PUMA enacted swift measures to hold Russia accountable for its illegal weeks-long military invasion of Ukraine. PUMA first ended a sponsorship contract with the Russian Basketball Federation and subsequently suspended its operations in Russia.

Yet PUMA has been hiding behind the flimsy excuse of not getting involved in politics for years now to justify its ongoing support for Israel’s decades-long apartheid regime.

Never has PUMA’s “we don’t do politics” excuse fallen flatter. Never has its hypocrisy been more exposed.

Tell PUMA: No more hypocrisy. End support for Israeli apartheid now. 
    

Puma continues to maintain its sponsorship contract with the Israel Football Association, which governs and advocates on behalf of teams in illegal settlements forcing Indigenous Palestinians off their land in the occupied Palestinian territory.

More than 200 Palestinian sports teams have called on PUMA to end its support for Israel’s military occupation. According to a leaked PUMA memo, an increasing number of PUMA’s own business partners and ambassadors are raising ethical concerns.

Take action now to call out PUMA’s hypocrisy.

Hey PUMA, now that you “do politics,” stop supporting illegal Israeli settlements
  

PUMA should take action now to end its complicity in oppression and suffering everywhere. Selective action is just another stain on its tarnished image.

In solidarity,
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

ps: We’re planning actions ahead of the PUMA shareholders meeting in early May. Mark your calendars and please get in touch if your group would like to join.

The nonviolent BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality is supported by the absolute majority in Palestinian society. BDS rejects all forms of racism and racial discrimination.

Global Rally Against Israeli Apartheid!

Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) Webinar
March 26th at 9AM CDT / 5PM Palestine Daylight Time

Join us for the 2022 Global Rally Against Israeli Apartheid!

On this day, we will be joined by artists from around the world centering art and culture as critical arenas of our collective resistance to Israeli apartheid and all forms of racism and oppression. From dance, to music, to poetry, the rally will highlight the critical role that culture and art play in decolonizing our minds.

Some of these artists, speakers and creatives include: Sanaa Moussa, El Funoun Dabke Troupe, Rana Nazzal, Radiodervish, Kayda Aziz, Badiaa Bouhrizi, Estefania Vega, and more!

This rally comes as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which over the last 18 years has propelled discussion of Israeli apartheid and organizing for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns into the popular narrative in order to help bring an end to this crime against humanity.

This year, from March to April, communities around the globe will come together to organize inspiring IAW actions and events to show that now, more than ever, we are #UnitedAgainstRacism.

Register Here!

Overview

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is a tool for mobilizing grassroots support on the global level for the Palestinian struggle for justice. It is a grassroots mechanism to raise awareness about Israeli apartheid and to mobilize support for strategic BDS campaigns to help bring an end to this system of oppression.

IAW provides an opportunity to network and strengthen the links between the Palestinian liberation struggle and other struggles against racism, oppression, and discrimination. In 2022, as in every year since 2005, we will once again join our voices to denounce apartheid and celebrate our diversity. This year, we plan to shed light on the role of culture, and art in particular, in decolonizing our minds in our collective struggles against cultural appropriation and oppression. From March to April, communities around the globe will come together to organize inspiring actions and events to show that now, more than ever, we are #UnitedAgainstRacism.

All Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) activities must conform to the BDS movement’s anti-racist principles and respect its affiliation guidelines.

Register Here!

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Inside the Illinois state pension board seeking to promote Israeli control over the West Bank


JB PRITZKER AND BRUCE RAUNER (ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

FRAN ZELL, MONDOWEISS, FEBRUARY 10, 2022

A coalition of Palestinian rights activists in Illinois believes it is past time to overturn the state’s anti-BDS law and do away with the small board dominated by right-wing extremists that enforces it. The Ben & Jerry’s issue was the tipping point that prompted the formation of the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Equality and Free Speech, now 20 member groups strong. It started last August when six activists attended the meeting of the Illinois Investment Policy Board (IIPB), at which the board voted unanimously and without discussion to begin the process of punishing Ben & Jerry’s for deciding to stop selling its ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. 

At that meeting the IIPB agreed to send notice to parent company Unilever that its socially responsible subsidiary had 90 days to reverse course. Otherwise Illinois public pension funds would be divested from all 400 Unilever brands. And ultimately, at a crowded meeting in late December, the board finalized the punishment by adding Unilever to its “restricted” list.

The media framed it as the state of Illinois’ war on Ben & Jerry’s. But in reality it’s a war being waged by an extremist pro-Israel lobby that put both the law and the board in place, and as FOIA emails show, is now using the board to promote their agenda of establishing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. However, a growing number of Illinois citizens are demanding the law be overturned, and the board it created be disbanded. 

The pro-Israel ideologue behind the Illinois Investment Policy Board

The person quietly at the center of it is Richard Goldberg, a Chicago-based pro-Israel neocon. He is currently a Senior Adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a hawkish foreign policy “think tank” that according to the Jewish News Syndicate helped guide the Trump administration’s Iran strategy.

Richard Goldberg (Photo: Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
Richard Goldberg (Photo: Foundation for Defense of Democracies)

At FDD Goldberg is said to have worked behind the scenes in 2018 to kill support within the Trump administration for the Iran Nuclear Deal. He is described as the Iran hawk John Bolton brought onto the National Security Council (2019-20), where he coordinated Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran. According to the Jewish News Syndicate, the campaign included sanctions, military force and the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. A few days after the assassination, Goldberg left the Trump administration and returned to the FDD.

Goldberg’s latest target through FDD is the United Nations for “demonizing” Israel. He has branded  UNRWA as antisemitic and linked to terrorism and guilty of perpetuating a “myth of Palestinian refugees.” When Trump defunded UNRWA in 2018, Goldberg told AP News that it was a “‘win for U.S. taxpayers and peace’…that would make Palestinians more self-sufficient…” 

He is also the person who “spearheaded the first ever” anti-BDS law, which “sparked a nationwide initiative in state capitols around America,” as he asserts in his FDD bio.

Goldberg has remained closely associated with the Illinois Investment Policy Board since its beginnings in 2016, according to a reliable source. “He attends IIPB meetings and is involved in its operations,” the source said.  “If you want to know anything about the statute and how it is interpreted, talk to Richard Goldberg.”

Goldberg did not return a call asking for information about his involvement with the board. 

The story of SB1761

The anti-BDS law (SB1761) passed the state assembly without a single nay vote in 2015. It is an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code that prohibits transactions by retirement systems with companies that “boycott Israel,” as well as with companies that don’t boycott Iran and Sudan. The Sudan clause is currently being revised, due to political changes in that country related to Israel. 

The law defines “Boycott of Israel” as “politically motivated” and “intended to penalize Israel.” Among the more contentious and legally questionable aspects of the law (after constitutionality) are the words “territories controlled by Israel” used in place of occupied Palestinian territory. The board then uses this language to claim the West Bank is part of Israel.

“Ben & Jerry’s is not boycotting Israel,” three national leaders of two liberal Zionist organizations said in a guest op-ed that appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business in early January. “…Their ice cream is still available in Israel, just not in Israeli settlements outside the state of Israel.”

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‘I thought I was a free man’: the engineer fighting Texas’s ban on boycotting Israel

Rasmy Hassouna, a Palestinian American, is suing the state over a provision that bans him or his company from protesting Israel or its products


Rasmy Hassouna: ‘If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart?’ Photograph: Courtesy Rasmy Hassouna

Erum Salam, The Guardian, 7 Dec 2021

For more than two decades, Texan civil engineer Rasmy Hassouna was a contractor for the city of Houston. Hassouna has consulted the city on soil volatility in the nearby Gulf of Mexico – a much needed service to evaluate the structural stability of houses and other buildings.

He was gearing up to renew his government contract when a particular legal clause caught his eye: a provision that effectively banned him or his company, A&R Engineering and Testing, Inc, from ever protesting the nation of Israel or its products so long as his company was a partner with the city of Houston.

For Hassouna – a 59-year-old proud Palestinian American – it was a huge shock.

“I came here and thought I was a free man. It’s not anybody’s business what I do or what I say, as long as I’m not harming anybody,” he told the Guardian. “Were you lying all this time? If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart? Why do I have to pledge allegiance to a foreign country?”

But Hassouna’s reaction did not stop at anger. He took action, launching a case that is challenging the Texas law and – by example – similar provisions that have spread all over the US that seek to stop government contractors from boycotting Israel and can be found in more than 25 US states. Along with the Arkansas Times newspaper, A&R Engineering and Testing Inc is now one of only two companies fighting this kind of law in the nation.

Hassouna’s case – which was filed on his behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – will be heard in federal court on Tuesday and is based on the idea that such laws violate free speech. If ruled unconstitutional, the 2019 ban on boycotting Israel will be illegal in the state of Texas.

But Hassouna’s decision to sue is not without a price. It could cost him a substantial amount of his yearly revenue, his lawyer said.

“They weren’t counting on Rasmy Hassouna from Gaza, whose family has suffered so greatly. He believes that Americans have the right to boycott whatever entity, foreign or domestic, that they want to. That’s what he’s doing – putting his money where his mouth is,” said Gadeir Abbas, a senior litigation attorney for CAIR who is representing Hassouna.

Free Palestine advocates in Columbus, Ohio, protested the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and proposed boycotting companies and goods that support Israel, 12 June 2021. Photograph: Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Hassouna first set foot on American soil in 1988. Like many immigrants, Hassouna’s first experience of the US was New York’s JFK airport. However, his final destination was the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the university at which he planned to study civil engineering. “Regardless how long it was going to take or how hard I had to work, I was going to keep aiming toward my goal,” he said.

As a Palestinian under Israeli occupation, Hassouna had no claim to citizenship, so he had to get permission from Israeli officials in order to leave his home in Gaza, an area described by humanitarian organizations and politicians as an open-air prison.

“For almost two months every day, I left the house and I took a cab to the center of Gaza city. I gave [Israeli officials] my government application, my ID. I went to the gate and waited from 7 in the morning until 5 in the evening. You’re looking at the month of June and July in the sun, just standing there.”

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