Arizona Capitol

Arizona Trying Again to Bar Israel Boycotts After Courts Defeated Previous Law

A BDS rally at McGill University in Montreal.
A BDS rally at McGill University in Montreal. McGill Daily, CC BY 2.0
Republican state senators have introduced a new bill that would bar public entities from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel over the nation’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a similar bill in 2016, but a federal court ruled that it violated the First Amendment. The law is currently held up in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a Sedona lawyer successfully sued over the legislation, claiming it violated his free speech rights.

Proponents of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, who consider Israel an apartheid state, advocate for a consumer boycott of Israeli goods, divestment from investments in Israeli companies, and international sanctions against the nation.

Opponents of the movement claim it is anti-Semitic. Several states have introduced bills or passed laws banning government workers or contractors from partaking in BDS.

Attorney Mikkel Jordahl in September sued Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and several public officials in Coconino County, where he has had a contract with a local jail to represent inmates. He refused to renew his contract in 2017 over the provision in his agreement requiring him not to boycott goods from Israel.

Jordahl, who has a history of pro-Palestine activism, participates in the BDS movement in his day-to-day life, but said in his lawsuit that his law firm does not partake in the boycott. Were it not for the law, he would expand his BDS activism to his firm.

“For example, Mr. Jordahl would refuse to purchase Hewlett Packard equipment for his Firm, because Hewlett Packard’s provision of information technology services used by Israeli security checkpoints throughout the West Bank,” the lawsuit states.

The new anti-BDS bill (SB 1167), which had its first reading in the Senate on January 24, appears to attempt to circumvent the court injunction against the current anti-BDS law.

The bill would limit the restrictions to companies with at least 10 employees. It would only apply when a company seeks a contract with the state valued at $100,000 or more.

Jordahl does not have more than 10 employees, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona confirmed. His contract with Coconino County is roughly $18,000 per year, according to his lawsuit.

Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the new law remains unconstitutional.

"This is a transparent attempt to avoid another defeat in court by passing a face-saving measure that would narrow the law into practical oblivion,” Hauss said. "The proper response would be to repeal this unconstitutional law in its entirety.”

State Senator Paul Boyer, the bill’s primary sponsor, did not respond on Tuesday to request for comment.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh