Israel has concluded a very unholy alliance with the American Evangelical Community, as support among progressive U.S. Jews for its settlement policies in the West Bank continues to wane. For this reason, in 2017, the Arkansas Senate passed Act 710, forbidding all “public entities from contracting with and investing in companies that boycott Israel.” Call me old-fashioned, but I miss that old Separation of Church and State principle. In Arkansas, legislation is now directly tied to the Second Coming. There is a painful irony to American Evangelical politicians using Zionism as a cudgel to exacerbate the political divide, and punish resistors. The act prohibits all state agencies, departments and contractors from doing business with any company that supports the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement.
When the Little Rock alternative paper, The Arkansas Times was asked by the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College (Pulaski Tech) to sign a pledge, promising not to boycott Israel, as a condition of renewing its advertising contract. Alan Leveritt, The Times publisher, refused to comply and filed a civil suit in December 2018, arguing that Pulaski Tech’s demand violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment. Though the Times has no position on BDS or Israel, they argued they should not be compelled to sign away their rights to support or oppose anything by the state, as a condition of a private contract.
The intent of BDS is to pressure Israel to cease its expansion of illegal settlements, and conform to International Law, including the United Nations treaties it agreed to upon its founding. Rich Forer, Middle East scholar and author points out, “The overwhelming majority of BDS supporters do not want to deny Israelis their civil rights. They want Israel to stop denying those same rights to its Palestinian residents. Is it un-American to call on Israel to honor the democratic principles embodied in its own Declaration of Independence?”
There is a painful irony to American Evangelical politicians using Zionism as a cudgel to exacerbate the political divide, and punish resistors.
Arkansas State Senator Bart Hester initiated Act 710, and articulated the Evangelical motivation saying, “There is (sic) going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the earth.” At least he’s honest about how his devotion to promoting the Apocalypse informs his work as a state senator. He added, ““Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that (sic) doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell.” Laverett notes, “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.”
On February 12, the Eighth Circuit Court ruled that law to be unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment by a 2-1 vote. That ruling reversed a prior decision by District Judge Brian S. Miller, which came in response to The Times’ request for an injunction to overturn Act 710. The Eighth Circuit decision cited the unanimous 1982 Supreme Court precedent of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Company, which ruled that political boycotts are “protected speech.”
The BDS movement began in 2005 when Palestinians launched it to pressure Israel into compliance with International Law and universal principles of human rights. In response, Israel launched its Ministry of Strategic Affairs to counter the boycott, and coordinated its effort with its loyal American Evangelical constituency. They have become Israel’s most reliable source of financial support as many American Jews withdrew their support.
Arkansas is one of 32 states to enact anti-BDS laws. The operative question is: Why is a state legislature getting involved in foreign policy? This is brazenly unconstitutional, because Article 1, Section 10 states, “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.”
In a recent NYT op-ed, Leveritt argued, “. . . states are trading their citizens’ First Amendment rights for what looks like unconditional support for a foreign government.” In the 2017 Federal court case brought by Leveritt and the Arkansas Times, the State of Arkansas argued that the Hester bill was not “political speech,” but an “economic exercise.” The absurdity of this lies in the historical importance of boycotts to American History and their rich bipartisan history.
Informed Comment’s Juan Cole points out, “The anti-boycott laws are the ultimate in cancel culture. They are also un-American. The Boston Tea Party was a boycott of a British commodity because of American feelings that the British government was taxing them without representation. The laws are backed by Israel’s cabinet-level Ministry of Strategic Affairs and are a clear and systematic attack on the basic rights of Americans. . . . African-American boycotts of white discriminatory businesses were key to the victory of the Civil Rights. . . . The right wing in America routinely gets up boycotts. Trump supporters boycotted Walmart because it carried t-shirts saying ‘Impeach Trump.’ The Trump movement, tinged with fascism and white supremacism, has advocated large numbers of boycotts of companies– Starbucks, Nike, Nordstrom’s even Oreo.”
Leveritt articulates the long-term fear saying, “These anti-boycott laws, allowing government to use money to punish dissent, will encourage the creation of ever more repressive laws that risk strangling free speech for years to come.”
Zionism arose in the late 19th Century in response to over 1000 years of anti-Semitism in Europe, and Israel evolved into statehood in direct response to the Fascist-driven Holocaust. Now American Evangelicals are requiring allegiance to Zionism as a tool of conformity for their overall Fascist agenda. As Israeli tourism declines among Jews, and progressive Jews withhold traditional financial support to Israel over objections to the occupation and settlement expansion, Israel’s new target market for tourism is the American Evangelical community. But their “love” for Israel, is counterintuitive to their disdain for Jews, which drives their “love” for Israel – round us up in one place so the Apocalypse can commence, resulting in a world without Jews. It is a euphemized “Final Solution.” Whose rabbit hole is this anyway?
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs frames the dynamic as a “Campaign Against Delegitimization” of Israel. The BDS Boycott of Israel is not about undermining “Israel’s legitimate position as a national home for the Jewish people,” as they argue. Rather, it is intended to place economic pressure on Israel to cease in his brutal occupation, expansion of illegal settlements and expropriation of Palestinian property.
The Arkansas State Legislature is composed of a plurality of Evangelical devotees. They answered Israel Office of Strategic Affairs call to arms by initiating their own unconstitutional campaign to quash free speech, in service to their common right-wing agenda. But anti-BDS laws are not limited to Southern states with Evangelical pluralities. California and New York also have laws or Executive Orders that require state entities to divest from organizations that support the BDS boycott. Forer asks, “Is loyalty to Israel more important to Arkansas’ lawmakers than the US Constitution’s implied separation of church and state? Are they imposing their evangelical Christian beliefs about the Second Coming of Jesus onto an entire populace?”
While Arkansas has elected a plurality of Evangelical state legislators, the state is also home to devoted progressives, who fiercely oppose the Evangelical agenda. Lee Riley Powell is an attorney who is a former AP reporter, and author of the definitive biography of Sen. William Fulbright. He summarized the dynamic saying, “The Arkansas Times deserves tremendous praise for opposing the state’s anti-boycott laws that fly in the face of the First Amendment and should embarrass any thoughtful Arkansans. It’s erroneous to dignify Sen. Bart Hester by describing him as ;conservative;’ his rant that, ‘Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that (sic) doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell,’ reveals his true colors as an ignorant reactionary.”
After the Eights Circuit decision was appealed, a new hearing was heard on September 21; with the decision pending. If the Circuit Court rules in favor of the legislation, then the matter goes to the Supreme Court. Though Federal courts ruled against anti-BDS laws in 2018 and 2019, a loss by the Arkansas Times at the SCOTUS could jeopardize those decisions and others. A decision favoring Arkansas Act 710, would effectively dispense with the 1st (free speech) and 14th (due process) Amendments. Those are the stakes, and the composition of the Court makes people nervous.
H. Scott Prosterman