Eighth Circuit Ruling Threatens Free Speech Rights of Every American

June 23, 2022

The ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc upholding an Arkansas law prohibiting government contractors from participating in boycotts of Israel or its settlements threatens the fundamental free speech rights of every American, regardless of their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As an organization committed to Israel’s survival as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, J Street does not support or advocate for the global BDS movement but believes that a true commitment to the First Amendment requires us to defend the principles of free speech even — and especially — when we find it objectionable or offensive. We are proud to have joined an amicus brief filed by Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection in the suit against the Arkansas law and will again submit a brief on an appeal to the Supreme Court.

As Rabbi Barry Block, the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, the largest synagogue in the state, has testified, the law at issue was enacted without consulting the Jewish community and ‘has nothing to do with the Jewish people of Arkansas’ and ‘gives the state a certain amount of control over the free press.’

Boycotts are a constitutionally protected form of political activity that have been used to protest segregation, worker exploitation and laws discriminating against transgender people. Anti-boycott laws like the one at issue in this case are illiberal and anti-democratic, aiming to suppress and punish free speech and dissent. Laws using this same formula to forbid or penalize boycotts of gun manufacturers, fossil fuel companies and others are being pushed at the state level nationwide. These laws are a real and growing threat to the most basic political freedoms of all Americans, not only those who want to take a stand against Israeli settlements or for Palestinian rights.

US pro-Israel groups that pushed for these laws or filed briefs in their defense need to understand the true nature of what they are promoting here — a blueprint and legal precedent for penalizing those who disagree with government policy at any level, on any issue. At a time when US democracy and basic rights are under grave threat, our community’s history and values compel us to oppose such flagrant attempts to undermine the bedrock freedoms on which the well-being and safety of Jewish Americans and all in our country rests.