Journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to end support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, was scheduled to give a keynote speech to the annual International Critical Media Literacy Conference that was to be held at Georgia Southern University on February 28 and 29, 2020. Her talk was canceled because she refused to sign a contract stating she would not support a boycott of Israel. Georgia, along with 27 other states, has enacted anti-boycott laws that prohibit state offices or agencies from doing business with any companies or individuals that boycott Israel, as teleSUR English reported. Eventually the conference at which Martin was to speak was called off entirely after numerous colleagues supported Martin in her refusal to sign the contractual pledge.
BDS is a global movement driven by citizen activists. It works to peacefully pressure corporations, universities, and cultural organizations to stop doing business with the state of Israel, with the goal of pressuring Israel to obey international law and respect the human rights of Palestinians.
Georgia’s anti-boycott legislation was passed by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature in 2016 in response to the growing influence of the BDS movement on college campuses. It requires anyone who enters into a contract with the state for more than $1000 worth of work to sign an oath swearing they will not boycott Israel.
BDS advocates argue that anti-boycott legislation, such as the laws adopted by Georgia and other states, violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution. On February 10, 2020, Martin filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s university system, claiming that the cancelation of her speech violated her constitutionally protected right to free speech. Martin tweeted that “[w]e must stand firmly opposed to these efforts and not cower in fear to these blatant violations of free speech.”
Martin’s legal action comes on the heels of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in December 2019 that permits the US government to define Judaism as both a religion and a nationality under federal law. The stated aim of the order was to more effectively allow the government to combat “anti-Semitism on college campuses.” In reality, by connecting Jewish religious identity with Israeli national identity, the new policy means any criticism of Israel’s government and their actions could be construed as an attack on the Jewish faith and labeled as “anti-Semitic.” The new classification means schools that receive federal funding could, by allowing any BDS activism or even discussion on campus, run afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids those schools from discriminating on the basis of religion or national origin.
This story has received very little corporate coverage. Outside of reports from the Associated Press and Yahoo! Finance (which ran a story from PR Newswire on the topic), what traction the story has gotten has been limited to either independent news sources or news sources that specialize in Israeli/American affairs.
“Abby Martin Banned from Speaking at US University for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel Pledge,” teleSUR English, January 17, 2020, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Abby-Martin-Banned-From-Speaking-at-US-University–20200117-0007.html.
“Abby Martin Sues Georgia State Over Law Forcing Loyalty to Israel,” teleSUR English, February 10, 2020, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Abby-Martin-Sues-Georgia-State-Over-Law-Forcing-Loyalty-to-Israel–20200210-0019.html.
Alan MacLeod, “Journalist Abby Martin Sues State of Georgia Over Law Requiring Pledge of Allegiance to Israel,” MintPress News, February 10, 2020, https://www.mintpressnews.com/abby-martin-lawsuit-state-georgia-over-bds-law/264798/.
Sheldon Richman, “Anti-BDS Laws Violate Our Freedom,” CounterPunch, February 17, 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/02/17/anti-bds-laws-violate-our-freedom/.
Student Researchers: Kathleen Doyle (University of Vermont) and Troy Patton (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluators: Rob Williams (University of Vermont) and Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)