Abby Martin’s efforts must be applauded for she has won a major victory in the struggle to maintain freedom of speech in the United States.
Many Americans who follow developments overseas would concede that Israel and its supporters in the United States exercise a fairly high level of control over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Some are also aware of Congressional attempts to introduce legislation that would define criticism of the Jewish state as a federal hate crime. That would narrow the options for discussion, infringing on First Amendment free speech rights, and further tighten the grip on policy. It would also make violators of the new law subject to fines and even imprisonment at the hands of the Department of Justice, which has traditionally responded favorably on issues of concern to Israel and its supporters.
Still fewer Americans, however, are aware of the ability of the Lobby to promote legislation favorable to Israel and its perceived interests at state and local levels. Possibly the most insidious program being advanced by the friends of Israel is the attempt to make boycotts and public criticism of Israel a punishable offense. Legislation is now in place in many states that requires prospective recipients of government jobs, services or compensation to agree not to participate in boycotting or otherwise seeking to damage the Israeli economy. The details on how the legislation works and what exactly it covers varies from state to state, but the intention is to create disincentives for anyone who seeks to harm Israel as defined by Israel itself. It particularly targets the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is popular on many university campuses. And the prohibition goes beyond just sanctioning those who are taking action personally, as in a number of states one also cannot publicly or even privately encourage others to take action that might be damaging to the Jewish state. In some U.S. states, the recipient must even sign a legal document under oath indicating that he or she will not engage in anti-Israeli activity.
One might well ask by what authority state governments can demand that citizens not be free to discuss or even peacefully oppose the activity engaged in by a foreign government, particularly as the government in question is an apartheid regime that is a serial violator of international law and guilty of numerous war crimes. Indeed, many who have observed the corruption of constitutional government in the United States by Israel and its friends have asked just that and have predictably not received any credible response. Recently, some believers in the Bill of Rights have, however, gone one step further, going to court after refusing to swear fealty to Israel. Highly respected international journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin is one of the latest to do so.
Abby’s tale will strike many as bizarre, but it has been verified by multiple independent sources and is absolutely true. It demonstrates how in 21st century America government at all levels can strip citizens of their fundamental rights with the stroke or a pen and how the lawmakers will feel absolutely no remorse after they have done so.
In 2016 in Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed off on a law designated SB 327, which is similar to legislation currently active in at least thirty states. The bill is entitled “State Purchasing; prohibit the state from entering into certain contracts unless such contracts contain a certification; does not presently conduct a boycott of Israel” and reads “A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Part 1 of Article 3 of Chapter 5 of Title 50 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general authority, duties, and procedure relative to state purchasing, so as to prohibit the state, including all of its subdivisions and instrumentalities, from entering into certain contracts with an individual or company unless such contracts contain a certification that such individual or company does not presently conduct a boycott of Israel and will not conduct such a boycott for the duration of such contract; to exclude certain contracts from these requirements; to provide for definitions; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
In simple language, the law requires any person or company that enters into a contract with the State of Georgia worth $1,000 or more to sign a loyalty oath pledging not engage in political boycotts of the Israeli government based on its treatment of Palestinians.
Abby Martin had agreed to give the keynote address at the International Critical Media Conference that was to be held at Georgia Southern University in 2020, but her participation was canceled by the authorities controlling the University System of Georgia when she refused to sign the document. Her advocacy for BDS was already well known to college authorities when she agreed to speak. She responded with a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund seeking to overturn both the decision and the law, arguing that her speech was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Last Monday, Judge Mark Cohen of the Federal District Court in Atlanta ruled in her favor, declaring that the University System of Georgia had violated Martin’s constitutional rights when it cancelled her speaking engagement over her refused to sign the state-mandated oath pledging not to engage in boycotts of Israel, which the court determined to be protected by the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.
The Georgian government defense argued absurdly that it had canceled Martin’s speech because it had “an interest in furthering foreign policy goals regarding relations with Israel.” Dismissing that contention, the judge countered with “Defendants fail to explain how Martin’s advocacy of a boycott of Israel has any bearing on Georgia’s ability to advance foreign policy goals with Israel.” One might also add that the U.S. Constitution grants to the federal government alone the conduct of foreign affairs for the entire United States, so, in a sense, Georgia has no foreign policy.
The judge specifically cited how the law’s clear intention to stifle discussion of BDS “prohibits inherently expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment,” and therefore “burdens Martin’s right to free speech.” He also observed that requiring Martin to sign under oath to refrain from certain otherwise legal activity is “no different than requiring a person to espouse certain political beliefs or to engage in certain political associations.”
Abby Martin was, of course, pleased over the outcome of her case, even though the judge has not yet gone so far as to overturn the law itself. She enthused “I am thrilled at the judge’s decision finding this law unconstitutional as it so clearly violates the free speech rights of myself and so many others in Georgia. My First Amendment rights were restricted on behalf of a foreign government, which flies in the face of the principles of freedom and democracy. The government of Israel has pushed state legislatures to enact these laws only because they know that sympathy and support for the population they brutalize, occupy, ethnically cleanse and subject to apartheid, is finally growing in popular consciousness ––they want to hold back the tide of justice by preemptively restricting the right of American citizens to peacefully take a stand against their crimes.”
Abby Martin’s efforts must be applauded for she has won a major victory in the struggle to maintain freedom of speech in the United States. May it be one of the first in the many battles that will have to be fought to have the courts finally determine decisively that laws drafted by states (and the federal government) specifically to serve Israel’s perceived interests are all unconstitutional and will have to be overturned.