First Amend­ment pro­tects boy­cotts

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Paul Asof­sky Asof­sky is a cur­rent board mem­ber and for­mer board pres­i­dent of the ACLU of Texas.

Pluecker com­mit­ted no un­law­ful act and didn’t bring his views about BDS into the univer­sity class­room. His work has noth­ing to do with this in­ter­na­tional con­flict. He merely re­fused to com­pro­mise his own po­lit­i­cal be­liefs by pledg­ing al­le­giance to the view­points of our cur­rent state of­fi­cials.

In 2017, the state en­acted a law de­signed to pun­ish Tex­ans who par­tic­i­pate in anti-Is­rael boy­cotts.

It re­quires that con­trac­tors want­ing to do busi­ness with any state en­tity or mu­nic­i­pal­ity cer­tify that they do not boy­cott Is­rael and will not do so for the du­ra­tion of the con­tract. The law tar­gets the Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions, or BDS, move­ment, which en­cour­ages world­wide boy­cotts of Is­rael as a means of non­vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion to Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among other things.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Texas, which takes no po­si­tion on BDS cam­paigns or the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict, re­cently filed a law­suit on be­half of four Tex­ans, seek­ing to have the anti-BDS law de­clared un­con­sti­tu­tional. Like the ACLU of Texas, I op­pose this anti-BDS law be­cause it is a vi­o­la­tion of the First Amend­ment right to boy­cott.

I am a pro-Is­rael, pro-peace, anti-BDS Amer­i­can Jew. I see a two-state so­lu­tion as the only way of pre­serv­ing the ex­is­tence of Is­rael as a Jew­ish and demo­cratic state and of giv­ing the Pales­tinian peo­ple the right of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion to which they are en­ti­tled.

I re­ject BDS cam­paigns be­cause they sin­gle out Is­rael as the sole ob­sta­cle to peace. How­ever, I still op­pose Texas’ vi­o­la­tion of our First Amend­ment rights through this law.

There are many peo­ple, such as the plain­tiffs in the law­suit, who hon­estly be­lieve that BDS cam­paigns are the best path to­ward achiev­ing peace in the Mid­dle East. They are not anti-Semitic. I dis­agree with them, but I must en­gage those hold­ing op­pos­ing views in de­bate and not rely on the gov­ern­ment to sti­fle them or co­erce them into tak­ing a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal stance.

One of the plain­tiffs in the ACLU of Texas law­suit, John Pluecker, is a trans­la­tor who has con­tracted with the Univer­sity of Hous­ton for many years. When the new law went into ef­fect, and the No Boy­cott of Is­rael cer­ti­fi­ca­tion made its way into two con­tracts pro­vided to Pluecker, he re­fused to sign the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. As a re­sult, he was not per­mit­ted to con­tinue his work.

Pluecker com­mit­ted no un­law­ful act and didn’t bring his views about BDS into the univer­sity class­room. His work has noth­ing to do with this in­ter­na­tional con­flict. He merely re­fused to com­pro­mise his own po­lit­i­cal be­liefs by pledg­ing al­le­giance to the view­points of our cur­rent state of­fi­cials. There could be no clearer vi­o­la­tion of free speech rights.

That same clar­ity has al­ready been es­tab­lished by the courts. In NAACP v. Clai­borne Hard­ware, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly es­tab­lished that the right to en­gage in po­lit­i­cal boy­cotts is pro­tected by the First Amend­ment. That 1982 land­mark civil rights case in­volved black ac­tivists boy­cotting white mer­chants in a protest for ra­cial equal­ity and ra­cial in­te­gra­tion.

Two fed­eral courts have also re­cently found that laws re­quir­ing con­trac­tors to cer­tify that they do not boy­cott Is­rael in­fringe on this same right, and pre­vi­ous fed­eral ef­forts to pass anti-BDS leg­is­la­tion in Con­gress have failed.

Wher­ever you stand on this par­tic­u­lar topic or other is­sues of pub­lic im­por­tance, you need only imag­ine the gov­ern­ment re­quir­ing you to choose be­tween giv­ing up your be­liefs or giv­ing up your liveli­hood, like Pluecker had to, to un­der­stand the vi­o­la­tion here.

What might be next? Could aca­demic free­dom be sti­fled by muz­zling pro­fes­sors at state-funded uni­ver­si­ties who refuse to sign a pledge? Could Texas re­quire this pledge of all teach­ers in pub­lic schools? Could it have re­quired that con­trac­tors not boy­cott South African goods dur­ing apartheid?

No — the state couldn’t then and it can’t now or in fu­ture de­bates. This law crosses a firm line. The First Amend­ment to our Con­sti­tu­tion thank­fully pre­vents us from hav­ing to bend our views to suit the gov­ern­ment. There­fore, we must de­fend it.

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