A Maryland supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and a Muslim civil rights group have sued Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) over an executive order which denies government contracts to businesses that boycott Israel.
Former state Del. Saqib Ali and the Council on American Islamic Relations of on Jan. 9 filed a lawsuit in federal court. Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) was also named in the suit.
Ali charges that the order is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
“I do boycott Israel and the illegally occupied territories because Palestinians are not free; they live under a brutal military occupation,” Ali said at a news conference. “And until that occupation is ended, I decided I will boycott Israel. It is my First Amendment right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
Ali told WJW that in his work as a software contractor he has tried to bid on Maryland government contracts. But the state required that he, and other contractors, sign a form stating that they do not boycott Israel.
Ali said he refused to sign the form and as a result has lost out on “thousands of dollars” of potential income.
“I’m optimistic about my chances here in Maryland,” Ali said. “They tried to pass this law in other states a couple of years ago but they failed,” Ali said. He is waiting for a trial date to be set, as the lawsuit is pending litigation.
Hogan’s office is equally optimistic.
“We are confident that our executive order is completely consistent with the First Amendment and will be upheld in court,” the Spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in an email Wednesday, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In response to an inquiry, Frosh’s office said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which represents the organized Jewish community, supports the governor’s executive order.
On Friday, it released a statement on its position:
“The JCRC believes that Maryland’s BDS Executive Order does not affect one’s Freedom of Speech,” the agency said. “The Maryland law simply limits a state’s business relationships with companies that discriminatorily limit their own business relations and exercises the State of Maryland’s freedom to choose the companies with whom it will contract. It does not penalize or infringe on anyone’s right to free expression but instead the law only relates to state contracting.
“This is consistent with federal laws,” the JCRC continued, “in that the U.S. government has emphatically rejected boycotts based on national origin and interferences with foreign trade policy in general and the federal courts have ruled that economic boycotts are not protected free speech. These laws do not prohibit or penalize any kind of speech as proponents of boycotting Israel remain free to call for such boycotts, encourage others to join them, and participate in them.”
Added Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, “It’s not about individuals having opinions or individuals speaking out, or even companies issuing press releases … it’s about them engaging in economic business practices as a business entity that discriminate against Israel.”
But some Jewish groups fear that anti-BDS acts will backfire.
“Saqib Ali’s lawsuit is one more in what we expect will be a litany of court challenges to bad anti-BDS laws on the state level that erroneously equate defending Israel with violating First Amendment protections,” said Jessica Rosenblum, senior vice president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that opposes BDS. “U.S. courts in Kansas and Arizona have already issued injunctions against such laws.”
Rosenblum said that anti-BDS policies could harm pro-Israel causes, because people will sympathize with litigants like Ali.
The liberal Americans for Peace Now opposes Hogan’s executive order because it erases the difference between Israel and the occupied West Bank, said Debra Shushan, director of policy and government relations. The group, which monitors the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, opposes BDS.