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December 1, 2021 1:02 pm

First Amendment Protects Boycott of Israel, New York Times Article Claims

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

If you are a corporation or a union wanting to spend money on political speech expressing your views, the New York Times doesn’t think the First Amendment should protect you. If you are an anti-abortion protester outside a reproductive health clinic, the New York Times doesn’t think the First Amendment should protect you. If you’re a Colorado wedding-cake baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the New York Times doesn’t think the First Amendment should protect you.

Yet there is at least one realm where the Times, all of a sudden, and in contrast to its usual pattern, has suddenly embraced free-speech absolutism, at least to judge by an opinion piece the newspaper published recently. That’s — you maybe guessed it by now — boycotting Israel. The Times opinion article is by an Arkansas newspaper publisher who preposterously claims it somehow violates the First Amendment to comply with his state’s law against boycotting Israel.

The logic that says it violates free speech to ban a boycott of the Jewish state would be a dagger aimed at pretty much every sort of anti-discrimination law. If a court rules that a boycott of the Jewish state is protected political speech, how could the same reasoning not apply to refusing to sell to individual members of a discriminated-against religious or racial group? What’s next? Is the Times going to claim that the First Amendment protects the ability of Arkansas innkeepers to deny hotel rooms to Jewish families? Or that the First Amendment protects the ability of non-church employers to deny jobs to Jewish job applicants?

The author claims that “states are trading their citizens’ First Amendment rights for what looks like unconditional support for a foreign government.” That’s just silly — and also hypocritical, because supporting a boycott of Israel sure looks like unconditional support for another foreign government — Iran, the radical Islamist fundamentalist regime that, like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, openly wants to wipe Israel off the map.

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Not that readers of this New York Times piece would get a clear or accurate definition of the BDS movement or its aims. Instead the article merely offers the falsehood that “In 2005, Palestinian civil society launched a campaign calling for ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.’” Never mind that some Arabs have been boycotting Jewish businesses in the land of Israel since before the Jewish state even threw off the colonial yoke, or that federal laws enacted in 1976 and 1977 have prohibited compliance with the Arab boycott. The Times has been whitewashing the BDS movement and cheering it on for years, but some readers see this latest article as signaling a recent shift and a new low.

A former editor at the Times, Mark Horowitz, commented on Twitter, “This narrow definition of BDS is so ubiquitous that it must be policy, not just ignorance. By limiting it to anti-occupation activism, but leaving out BDS rejectionism, antinormalization, and calls for elimination of Israel as the Jewish state, they are gaslighting Jews.”

An analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, Gilead Ini, pointed out that in 2019 the Times issued a correction on this point. Horowitz replied, “Problem is that practically the entire opinion staff has changed since that 2019 correction, especially at the top. That was a brief era of trying to address bias, including hiring a few editors more sensitive to Jewish concerns, but that era and those editors are long gone.” Bari Weiss and Adam Rubenstein, Times readers do miss you.

The reasoning of the Arkansas-BDS article is laughably weak. “The Arkansas legislature is dominated by conservative evangelicals, such as the former Senate majority leader, Bart Hester,” the Times article says. “Senator Hester and his coreligionists may see the anti-boycott law as a way to support Israel, whose return to its biblical borders, according to their reading of scripture, is one of the precursors to the Second Coming and Armageddon. In other words, Senator Hester and other supporters of the law entwine religion and public life in a manner that we believe intrudes on our First Amendment rights.”

You might as well claim that the Arkansas state statutes against murder and theft are an unconstitutional entwining of religion and public life, because the biblical Ten Commandments also proscribe those crimes. Shall only laws enacted by ardent atheists be enforceable? It’s comical, because whenever some religious leftist comes out with a biblical argument in favor of a liberal policy, from feeding the poor to welcoming refugees, the Times doesn’t hesitate to rush it into print without a lot of handwringing about entwining religion and public life. When it comes to pro-Israel policies, though, the Times sees any religious motive as unlawful.

What’s going on here isn’t the consistent application of principles, whether about free speech or about religion and politics. The only consistently applied Times principle here is the newspaper’s hateful practice of singling out the Jewish state for shabby treatment.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of the Forward and North American editor of the Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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