BDS Advocates Claim Major Victory After Federal Judge Overrules Georgia Anti-Boycott Law
US advocates of the campaign to isolate Israel within the international community as a first step towards its elimination as a Jewish state were celebrating a legal victory on Tuesday, following last week’s decision by a federal judge to strike down Georgia’s 2016 law prohibiting state contracts with businesses and organizations who endorse the so-called “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) movement.
In a ruling issued Friday, District Court Judge Mark Cohen rejected state officials’ efforts to dismiss a lawsuit from left-wing activist Abby Martin — a former correspondent for state-run channels owned by the Russian and Venezuelan regimes who now works as a media propagandist for the Palestinian cause.
Martin sued Georgia Southern University last year after officials asked her to sign paperwork agreeing not to support a boycott of Israel. She had been due to deliver a speech at a conference on its Savannah campus for a $1,000 honorarium, but pulled out in protest at the anti-BDS requirement.
University officials said her signature was necessary under the anti-BDS law passed by both houses of Georgia’s state legislature in March 2016. The bill prohibits the state, “including all of its subdivisions and instrumentalities,” from entering into contracts or agreements with companies involved with the BDS movement. It was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal in April 2016.
However, Judge Cohen ruled that the law “prohibits inherently expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.” He asserted that that the requirement on Martin to sign paperwork confirming that she was not a participant in the BDS movement was “no different than requiring a person to espouse certain political beliefs or to engage in certain political associations.”
Among those celebrating Cohen’s ruling was Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who tweeted: “Big win for the BDS movement. Let’s go!”
The Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — a pro-Hamas lobby group that backed Martin’s legal case — said in a statement that the judge’s decision proved there was a “constitutionally protected right to free speech and coordinated boycott.”
“By standing up against this illegal anti-BDS law, Abby Martin ensures that all Americans have the freedom to stand up for Palestine,” CAIR Attorney Gadeir Abbas said.
A senior official with a US Jewish organization who was closely involved with the passage of anti-BDS legislation in Georgia and several other states told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that Martin’s legal victory was not unexpected.
“The Georgia bill was one of the earlier bills to pass, and it wasn’t done to the highest standard,” commented the official, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
The official expressed confidence that at the next session of the Georgia legislature, the anti-BDS bill would be amended to “nix the kinks that made lawsuits like this one possible.”
“It’s a shame that amendment wasn’t passed earlier, because doing so would have obviated the need for this [Abby Martin] ruling,” the official added. “We’ve never questioned the First Amendment right of anyone to advocate in favor of BDS. What we have always said is that BDS advocates have a right to free speech, but not to a state contract.”
“States routinely choose who they contract with based on any number of issues, like gender representation in the workforce or respect for environmental regulations,” the official continued. “It’s no different when it comes to BDS, which is a hate movement that legislatures have rightly said they want nothing to do with.”
According to a list maintained by the Jewish Virtual Library, 35 states have passed anti-BDS legislation since 2015, most recently West Virginia, which approved an anti-BDS bill last month. Georgia was the tenth state to do so.