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Mik Jordahl: Why can’t I represent Arizona inmates if I boycott Israel?

Each year, I renew a contract to provide legal services to inmates in an Arizona county jail.

I have been doing this for 12 years without complications. Lately, though, there has been some extra paperwork that has nothing to do with my work as an attorney. Now, in order to renew my contract, I am being asked to promise that I will not participate in a boycott of Israel.

Arizona adopted a law in 2016 that prohibits the state, along with any of its towns, cities or counties, from contracting with entities that support even the limited boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Local governmental contracts throughout Arizona now contain this political litmus test.

By design, this pledge inhibits my constitutionally protected right to protest injustices as I see them and spend my money where and how I please if I want to keep doing a job that I care about.

For many years almost every country in the world has deemed Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be in violation of international law. Yet our government will be giving $40 billion in taxpayer assistance to Israel over the next 10 years and won’t withhold even a portion of that funding, in spite of continuing settlement expansion and its devastating effect on a two-state solution.

My interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue isn’t new. I have visited the region previously. I raised a Jewish son. Last spring, he and I traveled together to Israel and Palestine. We met journalists, human rights advocates, Israelis and Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. No one we talked to believed that Israel would ever dismantle the more than 100 Israeli settlements peppered through the West Bank. It was painfully clear to us that Israel will not stop, and in fact has accelerated, its de facto policy of permanent Israeli occupation. On the other hand, it will never allow equal rights for the 2.8 million West Bank Palestinians in a single state.

In the face of U.S. financial support for Israel, the boycott movement has become one of the most effective forms of protest against Israel’s violations of international law. The boycott of settlement products and companies that support them has been formally endorsed, in one form or another, by Lutheran, Episcopalian, Mennonite, Methodist, Unitarian, Quaker and Presbyterian denominations, as well as organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the World Council of Churches and Amnesty International.

Rational minds can disagree on whether the movement to boycott the occupation is effective or even appropriate. But do our Arizona legislators need to chip away at our First Amendment rights to express our opinions on this issue? By this logic, what would limit Arizona’s Legislature from deciding they won’t do business with people and companies that support a boycott of Trump family businesses, or tobacco companies, or even the Democratic Party?

From the Montgomery bus boycott to boycotts of apartheid-era South Africa, this peaceful form of protest has long been protected by the Constitution. No matter where you stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine, it should be clear that we as individuals have a right to engage in peaceful individual boycotts and a right to not spend our private monies in the way we choose.

Lawyer Mik Jordahl is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit recently filed challenging Arizona’s anti-boycott law. He is represented by the ACLU. Contact Jordahl at

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