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US court revives challenge to Arkansas law targeting the boycott Israel movement

Federal appeals court orders reconsideration of case that argues anti-BDS law violates right to free speech

Illustrative: Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to the United Nations Building in New York, September 15, 2011, calling to end all US aid to Israel and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. (AP Photo/David Karp)
Illustrative: Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to the United Nations Building in New York, September 15, 2011, calling to end all US aid to Israel and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. (AP Photo/David Karp)

JTA — A US federal appeals court struck a blow to the legality of an Arkansas law that aims to penalize the boycott Israel movement.

In 2017, the state passed the law, which financially penalizes companies that do not renounce the boycott Israel movement. A federal Arkansas judge dismissed a challenge to it in 2019.

But a federal appeals court revived the challenge on Friday and ordered the district court in Little Rock to reconsider the case.

“The Act seeks to restrict government contractors’ ability to participate in speech and other protected, boycott-associated activities recognized as entitled to protection under Supreme Court precedent, thereby implicating First Amendment rights,” said the ruling issued by the St. Louis-based Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which covers Arkansas.

The case’s plaintiff is the Arkansas Times, an alternative monthly. The Times holds no position on Israel boycotts but filed the suit because it objected to having to sign an agreement not to boycott Israel as part of an advertising deal with the University of Arkansas.

The American Civil Liberties Union represented the Arkansas Times in the case.

More than half of the states in the United States have passed similar laws banning business with Israel boycotters, but contractors who have challenged the laws in court have scored a number of successes.

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