Anti-Israel protesters. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
anti-Israel boycott

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Kansas on behalf of a teacher who claims that the state’s anti-BDS law infringes on her right to free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a teacher challenging Kansas’ new law barring state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel, saying it’s a clear violation of her free speech rights.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Esther Koontz, a math and science curriculum coach at a Wichita public school, seeks to overturn a law that took effect July 1 and prohibits the state from entering into contracts with individuals or companies participating in a boycott of Israel. The measure had strong bipartisan support.

“The government does not get to use its leverage to silence one side of the debate,” Brian Hauss, an ACLU attorney, told The Associated Press. The ACLU is asking to have enforcement of the law blocked while the case proceeds.

Supporters of the Kansas law argue that it does not prevent people from protesting Israel’s policies or boycotting Israeli companies but just requires them to forgo state contracts if they do. Supporters contend the state has the right to choose its contractors.

State Rep. Randy Powell, a conservative Republican representing the town of Olathe who pushed for the law, said he’s confident that it’s constitutional.

During the Kansas Legislature’s debate earlier this year, state officials also described Israel as an important trading partner, with Kansas exporting $56 million worth of products there in 2016 while buying $83 million worth. Republican Governor Sam Brownback made an unpublicized visit to Israel in late August and early September, during which he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So far, the Kansas Department of Commerce hasn’t found any of the state’s contractors or other businesses in Kansas openly boycotting Israel, said David Soffer, the agency’s director of marketing and research. Under the bill, companies would be required to provide written certification saying they’re not boycotting Israel before getting a state contract.

“Boycotts of Israel are really a discriminatory effort by a few people who aren’t necessarily interested in a peaceful resolution in the Middle East,” said Jacob Millner, Midwest regional director for the Israel Project.

But Dima Khalidi, executive director of Palestine Legal, a group supporting pro-Palestinian advocates, said the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups unfairly attempt to paint boycott backers as radicals or terrorism supporters.

The lawsuit says Koontz is a Mennonite and the wife of a pastor. She decided to boycott Israeli products and services to “support the Palestinians’ struggle for equality.”

In July, a Mennonite Church USA convention voted to boycott Israel and sell its holdings in companies profiting from the so-called Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, joining the United Church of Christ in approving such divestment measures.

A Kansas State Department of Education official told Koontz in August that she could not be paid as a teacher trainer. The lawsuit names the department’s head, Education Commissioner Randy Watson, as the defendant.

“This lawsuit is a really important step to make sure that our right to dissent is protected,” Khalidi claimed.

The governors of all 50 US states have signed a declaration condemning the BDS movement as antithetical to American values.

Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, South Carolina, PennsylvaniaNew JerseyRhode Island, MichiganTexasNevada and North Carolina have all passed bills fighting BDS.

The BDS movement promotes financial, academic and cultural boycotts of Israel, ostensibly as a nonviolent protest against the so-called “Israeli occupation.” Critics say its activities are a modern form of anti-Semitism and that its true objective is to destroy the State of Israel.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff