PHOENIX —The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a 2016 Arizona law that bars state and local governments from doing business with any firm that won’t do business with Israel, saying it violates free speech rights.
ACLU’s lawsuit filed in federal court contends the law illegally forces business owners to choose between their political beliefs and being able to sell goods and services to government agencies. Attorney Kathleen Brody wants an order to prohibit the state from forcing firms from making that choice. There was no immediate response from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which will have to defend the law in court.
The law spells out that public agencies cannot enter into contracts with any company unless the deal includes “written certification that the company is not currently engaged in, and agrees for the duration of the contract to not engage in, a boycott of Israel.”
David Gowan, who was House speaker at the time, said he wanted to use the economic strength of the state to undermine the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement.
The idea behind the BDS movement is to get people to boycott companies that do business with Israel to pressure that country to change its policies including settlements on the West Bank. Among the companies targeted, Gowan said, are Boeing and Caterpillar, which both have a presence in Arizona.
Gowan called the boycott movement “anti Semitic,” and said his legislation shows Arizona is supportive of Israel, “its strongest ally in the Middle East.”
What it also is, the ACLU’s Brody contends, is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of Mik Jordahl, a Flagstaff attorney who has done legal work for the Coconino County Jail District worth more than $18,000 a year.
Jordahl, according to Brody, also is a non-Jewish member of Jewish Voice for Peace which endorses the BDS movement to protest the actions of the Israeli government “including the occupation of Palestinian territories.” She said he personally boycotts consumer goods and services provided by businesses supporting the occupation.
He signed the certification the first time last year on behalf of his law firm, Brody said, but made it clear that reflected only his business and not his personal beliefs. But when asked to sign again earlier this year, Jordahl balked.
Brody said Jordahl wants to extend his personal boycott to his firm’s consumer choices. For example, she said, he would refuse to purchase office equipment from Hewelett Packard because that company provides information technology services used by Israeli security at checkpoints throughout the West Bank.
And Jordahl said he’d like his firm to be able to provide support, including help, to Jewish Voice for Peace and other boycott participants.
“The certification requirement chills individual express and association,” Brody told the court.
“The politically motivated boycott of consumer goods and services offered by companies operating in Israel, and/or Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, is speech and expressive activity related to a matter of public concern,” she continued. “It is therefore protected by the First Amendment.”
Brody also said the law is legally flawed because it is one-sided.
She said the law financially penalizes firms that boycott companies that do business with Israel. But it allows contractors to participate in other boycotts, including those that take the reverse position.
The law was approved by the Arizona House on a 46-14 vote and by the Senate on a 23-6 margin.
Among those expressing opposition was Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who said the measure was built on the flawed assumption that all Israelis and all Jews support that country’s current policies. But in an “active, free-market democracy,” he said, people think different ways.