Journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin is suing the state of Georgia after she was blocked from participating in a media conference at Georgia Southern University when she refused to sign a contract stating she would not support a boycott of Israel. On February 10, 2020, Martin filed her complaint in the United States District Court in Georgia as legal means to challenge the state’s law which aims to target people who wish to do business with the state who may be critical of the Israeli government.
Signed into law in 2016, the law specifically targets the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which began organizing on college campuses in 2005. The movement aims to put economic pressure on Israel by boycotting companies with direct connections to the Israeli government, divesting from Israeli companies, and supporting sanctions on the country.
This action by Martin comes on the heels of an executive order signed in December of 2019 that allowed the US government to define Judaism as both a religion and a nationality with regards to 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 the national identity with the religious one, any organized 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 run afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids those schools from discriminating on the basis of religion or national origin. Since the Jewish national origin is tied to the religious one, the line between actual anti-Semitic speech and speech that is critical of the actions of the Israeli government is blurred to the point where they could be nearly indistinguishable under federal law. Martin’s challenge of the Georgia law could spark action from the courts which could rule that such laws violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause.
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 Sue Georgia State Over Law Forcing Loyalty to Israel,” TeleSUR, 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/.
Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff, “As Democracy Crumbles, Silence Speaks Volumes,” CounterPunch, January 10, 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/10/as-democracy-crumbles-silence-speaks-volumes/.
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 Researcher: Troy Patton (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)