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PHOENIX—Arizona's Assistant Attorney General has requested that a federal judge allow the state to continue enforcing prohibition of boycotting Israeli companies through public contracts, despite the judge's claims that the prohibiting of such action violates First Amendment rights.
Assistant Attorney General Curtis Ensign claimed that Judge Diane Humetewa was mistaken when she associated the prohibition law with First Amendment violation. Ensign is currently seeking an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, alleging that allowing boycotts will lead to irreparable harm.
Since 2016, Arizona law has required any individual or firm that is seeking a contract with either state or local governments to sign a statement that they will not boycott Israel or the firms that conduct business there.
Glenn Hamer, CEO of Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry | Courtesy of Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Efforts to protect Israel and companies that conduct business there have been made in response to several anti-semitic movement groups, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a group that attempts to boycott the Israeli state and those who do business in the country.
BDS is run by the Palestinian BDS National Committee and the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. The group claims that Israel has occupied and colonized Palestinian land, and that boycotting the country will force positive change for Palestine. Critics of the group claim that it is encouraging international hate against Jewish communities and the Jewish state around the world.
In Ensign's legal filings, he claimed that Humetewa's ruling on the issue would require a great deal of effort and reworking for both state and local governments which have already awarded out contracts to specific companies. If the judge's ruling stands, Ensign estimated that there will be hundreds of new contracts that would be allowed to boycott Israel through their awarding process.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, officially announced that his office would be defending the 2016 Arizona law in order to maintain the current prohibition of state-funded contractors from boycotting Israel, decrying Humetewa's claims that it violates the First Amendment.
"Nothing in the statute prevents the defendant from exercising his First Amendment rights," Brnovich said.
The situation, however chaotic, has become more so after Mik Jordahl, a Flagstaff attorney, represented by the ACLU, came forward to both voice his support for the Palestinian efforts and to claim that he wants his law firm to be able to boycott products based on their connection to Israel. Specifically, Jordahl has voiced an interest in refusing to purchase Hewlett-Packard computer equipment due to the fact that the company provides IT services that are used by Israeli security at West Bank security checkpoints.
Brnovich — a first-generation American whose family fled Yugoslavia when he was a child — has directly taken up the fight by filing a Motion to Dismiss in Jordahl v. et al, claiming that the reason for the anti-boycott law was to prevent discrimination based on national origin.
Humetewa has stated that it's likely Jordahl's case will win out and that, while his case is still undecided, the state will not be able to enforce prohibition of the boycott. Brnovich's office, however, claims that Jordahl is currently not involved in boycotting Israel and that his desire to boycott companies of Israeli origin or association would be limited in scope to only several companies that he claims to disagree with politically.
"The job of the Attorney General’s Office is to defend state law. We’ve never said individuals don’t have a First Amendment right to act however they choose in their private lives," Katie Connor, Spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General's Office told Legal Newsline. "But if you’re a state contractor and receive taxpayer funds, you should not be discriminating on the basis of national origin."
Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, believes that Brnovich has made the right stand in supporting the anti-boycott law, and shared his personal views on the issue with Legal Newsline.
"Attorney General Mark Brnovich deserves tremendous credit for ensuring that the state of Arizona be able to establish its own laws when it comes to ensuring that taxpayer dollars aren’t used to advance movements as ugly as the BDS campaign, which is rooted in rank anti-Israel, anti-Semitic discrimination," Hamer told Legal Newsline.
"We’re disappointed a federal judge blocked enforcement of the law, and we’ve asked for a stay. We will appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit, not just because we believe we’re legally right, but because it’s morally the right thing to do," Connor said.
Earlier this year, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, issued a statement, against BDS, claiming that "The state of Israel will actively prevent such groups from spreading their falsehoods and odious methods from within the country.”