Do Americans have the right to boycott Israel?
Amid severe violence in the West Bank, the United Nations’ top human rights body released a report on October 20 concluding that the Israeli occupation appears illegal under international law because the Israeli government is trying to make it illegal. permanent with the establishment of settlements. . UN experts have urged the International Court of Justice in The Hague to give its opinion on the occupation.
At the same time, another angle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union, a private organization that works to protect the civil rights of U.S. citizens, said Oct. 20 it would ask the Supreme Court to strike down a U.S. state law that penalizes U.S. businesses. who refuse to commit to ignoring calls to boycott Israel. . There are 35 US states (out of 50) that have laws prohibiting any contract or investment with private companies that boycott Israel or the occupied territories. In 2019, Human Rights Watch urged states to repeal anti-boycott laws that penalize companies that want to end their involvement in the Israeli occupation. Human Rights Watch made the recommendation after popular US tourist accommodation company AirBnB said in 2018 that it would stop listing properties for rent in Israeli settlements. The Israeli government urged US state governments to intervene, and major states including Illinois, Texas and Florida retaliated against AirBnB. The company had to withdraw from its position.
Similarly, this month, after pressure from the states of New York, Texas and Illinois, the American company Unilever sold to an Israeli company the license rights to manufacture a popular brand of ice cream that the company had decided not to sell in the West Bank. American foreign policy analyst Steven Cook, a researcher at the Brookings Institute, wrote in May 2022 that despite the occasional noise from some college campuses, Israel and the anti-boycott movement in the United States won. The big American companies have big and important business relationships with the Israeli companies that they will maintain. The influence of the anti-boycott movement is strong in Washington and in the states. According to a 2022 Pew Research public opinion poll, 84% of Americans know nothing or nothing about the boycott Israel movement, and only 5% support it.
In this difficult climate, why is the American Civil Liberties Union urging the US Supreme Court to take up now a case concerning the anti-boycott law in the state of Arkansas? This is because the organization perceives these laws to pose a serious threat to the freedom of speech of American citizens. In its October 20 announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union recalled that trade boycotts are part of American history. In their revolution against Britain 250 years ago, Americans boycotted British goods to pressure London into accepting American independence. In the United States, in the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled regarding the boycott of black American civil rights organizations against businesses in the state of Mississippi that discriminated against black citizens. The Supreme Court has ruled that boycotts are a constitutionally protected form of political expression. Is this right safe under anti-boycott laws?
The case presented by the American Civil Liberties Union now comes from a local newspaper in the state of Arkansas that wanted an advertising contract from the local state university. Before it could finalize the contract, the state of Arkansas followed its law and asked the paper to pledge not to boycott Israel. The newspaper’s editor, who is a conservative, opposed it on principle. He mentioned that his newspaper focuses on local news in a town in Arkansas. Why, he asked, does he need to engage in the Middle East, which is far from Arkansas and not the newspaper’s concern? He insisted that the newspaper does not boycott anyone but that the government has no right to compel his newspaper to follow a political line or to choose whether to implement a boycott or not.
The editor commented that he did not blame the Israeli government for doing everything it could to protect Israeli interests, but he expected American politicians to push to defend the rights of American citizens. Working with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the publisher won its case against the anti-boycott law in the original court, but the state government appealed in higher court. Earlier in October, this superior court ruled that a boycott is a private business action and therefore not political expression, upholding Arkansas’ anti-boycott law. Now the case can be taken to the highest court which will decide whether boycotting Israel is a free political decision in America or not.