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Civil Rights Groups Condemn Georgia Legislators’ Effort to Protect Unconstitutional ‘Israel Boycott’ Law at the Behest of Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

(ATLANTA, GA – 3/12/2020) — The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), CAIR Legal Defense Fund, and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund today condemned a last-minute attempt by two state legislators, Rep. Deborah Silcox and Rep. Michael Wilensky, to salvage Georgia’s anti-free speech Israel boycott at the behest of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

The groups are also asking Georgia state residents to contact their state representatives and senators requesting that they vote against any attempt to salvage Georgia’s illegal anti-boycott law.
Action Alert: Call on Georgia Legislators to Oppose Unconstitutional ‘Israel Boycott’ Law

In 2016, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law SB 327, which requires any person or company that enters into a contract with the State of Georgia worth $1,000 or more to sign a loyalty oath pledging not to boycott the Israeli government based on its treatment of Palestinians.

Numerous advocacy groups and state legislators, including then-House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and current House Minority Leader Bob Trammel, opposed the law as a violation of free speech.

Earlier this year, CAIR-Georgia, PCJF, and the CAIR Legal Defense Fund filed a federal free speech lawsuit against the University System of Georgia, which cancelled a journalist’s speaking engagement because she refused to sign a state-mandated oath pledging not to boycott the Israeli government. 

SEE: Civil Rights Groups Announce Free Speech Lawsuit Against Georgia’s Unconstitutional ‘Israel Boycott’ Law

Last week, Rep. Deborah Silcox and Rep. Michael Wilensky introduced HB 1058, which limits the law’s application to contracts over $100,000. 

During a committee hearing on March 12th, Rep. Silcox publicly admitted that she had introduced the bill at the urging of Atlanta’s Israeli Consulate, saying, “The Israeli consulate and a number of people have asked me to raise the limits.” Rep. Silcox also introduced an official from the Israeli Consulate during the meeting.

SEE: Video of Remarks at Public Hearing (Beginning at 13:10)

Other states have introduced similar alterations after their original anti-boycott laws were defeated in court. By raising the contract limit, the bill would make it less likely the law would be applied, and thus less likely to be challenged.

“Extinguishing Americans’ First Amendment rights to boycott is unconstitutional no matter what the cost of the contract,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder and director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “This is a transparent attempt to insulate an illegal law from challenge, but the state of Georgia cannot lawfully put a price tag on free speech rights.”

In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Legal & Policy Director Murtaza Khwaja said:

“The fact that Representative Silcox and Representative Wilensky are attempting to salvage Georgia’s anti-boycott law at the behest of a foreign government confirms the strength and value of our federal free speech lawsuit. However, tweaking this unconstitutional law does not make it any less unconstitutional.”

In a statement, CAIR National Deputy Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said: 

“Just as Alabama could not ban African-Americans from working for the state while participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Georgia cannot similarly punish Georgians who boycott Israel to protest its human rights abuses against Palestinian people. Rep. Silcox, Rep. Wilensky, and other legislators must answer to the people of Georgia, not the whims of a foreign consulate.”

In a statement, CAIR Legal Defense Fund Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas said:

“HB 1058 is a transparent effort to insulate an unconstitutional law from judicial scrutiny.  It is an indication that, even proponents of these anti-free speech measures know how far outside the First Amendment’s bounds their bill really is.”

SEE: Abby Martin Banned From Speaking at US University For Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel Pledge

BACKGROUND

Similar measures have been enacted in 25 other states as part of an effort to block the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Modeled after the global South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement’s stated goal is to pressure the Israeli government to end its occupation of Palestinian territory. 

CAIR, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other civil rights organizations have filed free speech lawsuits against anti-BDS laws in Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, and Texas, where CAIR won a landmark legal victory last year.

SEE: Texas Judge Blocks Law Banning Contractors from Engaging in Boycotts of Israel

Arizona Lawmakers Running Scared After Anti-Boycott Law Ruled Unconstitutional

The federal court in Texas held that that the state’s anti-boycott law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” The Court concluded: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, based in Washington, D.C., is a public interest legal organization that has litigated on behalf of political organizations and activists across the country to protect and defend First Amendment rights. For more information go to www.JusticeOnline.org.

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.

END

CONTACT: 

  • CAIR-Georgia Legal & Policy Director Murtaza Khwaja, 404-432-8847, mkhwaja@cair.com
  • CAIR Senior Litigation Attorney Gadeir Abbas, 720-251-0425, gabbas@cair.com
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