TEL AVIV — A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit in Arkansas by a local newspaper to block an anti-BDS law against Israel, ruling that such boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment since denying a purchase on account of perceived injustices relating to Israeli policies has nothing to do with free speech.
US District Judge Brian Miller ruled that the case brought by the Arkansas Times and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas did not demonstrate “that a refusal to deal, or its purchasing decisions, fall[s] under the First Amendment.”
The 2017 law requires state contractors to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don’t sign a pledge not to participate in anti-Israel boycotts.
The Times sued after a regular advertiser — the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College — refused a contract with the newspaper unless it signed the pledge.
“It may even call upon others to boycott Israel, write in support of such boycotts, and engage in picketing and pamphleteering to that effect. This does not mean, however, that its decision to refuse to deal, or to refrain from purchasing certain goods, is protected by the First Amendment,” Miller wrote.
He added, however, that the Times is free to engage in other forms of protected speech, including writing or protesting against Israeli policies.
The newspaper argued that its editorial content should not be dictated by the state, but Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office, which defended the law, said the pledge did not interfere with the newspaper’s right to take a political stance.
“Attorney General Rutledge is pleased with Judge Miller’s ruling dismissing the Arkansas Times’ meritless lawsuit and upholding state law prohibiting discrimination against Israel, an important American ally,” Amanda Priest, a spokeswoman for Rutledge, said.
The current Arkansas law applies to state contracts with a value of at least $1,000. In Kansas, a similar law was revised to apply only to contracts worth $100,000 or more. Now the sponsor behind Arkansas’ law is looking to follow Kansas’ lead and raise the minimum amount to which penalization could apply.
“The reality is when we’re passing laws we want them to be fair and right and just, and if we need to correct something to make it function and work better, that’s what we want to do,” Republican Sen. Bart Hester said.