T’ruah, J Street Celebrate 8th Circuit Decision That Anti-BDS Law Violates First Amendment

February 16, 2021

In response to today’s ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Arkansas law prohibiting government contractors from participating in boycotts of Israel violates the First Amendment, T’ruah Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:

“This is a huge victory in the fight for free speech. Anti-BDS laws like these violate the constitutional rights of Americans while doing absolutely nothing to protect Israel or Jews. This is the first appellate decision holding unconstitutional an anti-BDS law, and it reverses the only district court opinion finding an anti-BDS law to be constitutional. This decision will send a strong signal to other courts evaluating the legality of anti-BDS laws under the First Amendment.

“These heavy-handed laws stifle free speech and open the door to broader government control of public discourse. Our organizations, J Street and T’ruah, do not support or advocate for the global BDS movement. Some under the broad BDS umbrella have indeed trafficked in antisemitic ideas and rhetoric. But 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. The right to boycott is an established First Amendment right that has been used to protest segregation, worker exploitation and laws discriminating against transgender people.

“As Rabbi Barry Block, a member of T’ruah and the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, the largest synagogue in the state, has testified, this law 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.’”

T’ruah and J Street joined an amicus brief filed by Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection in the suit against the Arkansas law.

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