Yesterday the ACLU posted an electrifying piece by Esther Koontz, a curriculum coach in the Wichita public schools: “Kansas won’t let me train math teachers because I boycott Israel.”
A day earlier, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Kansas commissioner of education on behalf of Koontz– saying that a new Kansas law requiring all state contractors to certify that they aren’t boycotting Israel violates the First Amendment because it imposes an “ideological litmus test” on beliefs and associations.
Koontz is a Middle American if ever there was one. She is married to a Mennonite pastor. She decided to boycott Israel after teachings at her church. She taught math for many years.
Last spring she was chosen to participate in a state program that trains public school math teachers all over Kansas. But in June Kansas passed its law against contracts with boycotters of Israel. She writes:
That law affects me personally. As a member of the Mennonite Church USA, and a person concerned with the human rights of all people — and specifically the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights in Israel and Palestine — I choose to boycott consumer goods made by Israeli and international companies that profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights.
The law went into effect in July, and the state sent Koontz a certification form to affirm that she does not boycott Israel.
I was stunned. It seems preposterous that my decision to participate in a political boycott should have any effect on my ability to work for the state of Kansas.
After waiting for several weeks and considering my options, I emailed back and told the official I could not sign the certificate as a matter of conscience. Could I still participate in the state’s training program? She responded that, unfortunately, I could not.
Koontz also says in the piece that she endorsed BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions, last fall during a church teaching that convinced her that BDS “could help bring about an end to the Israeli government’s occupation, in the same way those tactics helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa.”
Meantime, ACLU staff attorney Brian Hauss, who sued on Koontz’s behalf, wrote a piece for Haaretz affirming the right to boycott. He also cited South Africa.
From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign to divest from businesses operating in apartheid South Africa, political boycotts have been a proud part of this country’s constitutional tradition.
I don’t understand why this isn’t in the New York Times!
Here are some excerpts from Hauss’s lawsuit, filed two days ago in federal court in Kansas. The Kansas law barring contracts with boycott supporters was aimed at free speech about Palestinian conditions and Israeli actions:
The Act’s legislative history indicates that one of its principal objectives is to suppress participation in boycott campaigns aimed at Israel, particularly Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) campaigns, which seek to apply economic pressure on Israel to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel…
In the House Budget Committee hearing, Representative Powell “explained his support for the legislation” by “emphasiz[ing] the unique relationship between the United States and Israel, and Israel’s standing as one of the few democracies in the Middle East.”
Proponent Margie Robinow testified that, “[w]ithout a stance against BDS, the hearts and minds are lost for the next generation, along with the economic impact.”
The suit tells us of Koontz’s close association with the Mennonite Church, and her path to boycott:
Ms. Koontz is a member of the Mennonite Church USA. Her husband has been a Mennonite pastor from 2006 to 2011, and from 2013 to the present. They have three children and have been members of the First Mennonite Church, Hutchinson, for four years.
In the fall of 2016, a member of Ms. Koontz’s congregation made a series of presentations about his recent tour of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Over the course of eight sessions, Ms. Koontz and members of her congregation watched video presentations from non-governmental organizations, children’s rights advocates, former soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and others about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
At the conclusion of the series, the presenter asked the gathered congregation members to consider boycott, divestment, and sanctions activity. Ms. Koontz left the meeting with the conviction that she needed to do her part to support the Palestinians’ struggle for equality. She came to the conclusion that her economic decisions should reflect her values, even if that simply meant refusing to buy certain consumer products…
Accepting the calls from her church, “Ms. Koontz is engaged in a boycott of consumer goods and services offered by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Ms. Koontz does not limit her boycott to products produced by companies operating in the settlements because she believes that the Israeli economy as a whole profits from the occupation and because she also wants to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinian citizens living in Israel.
And by the way it’s about the U.S. too:
Through her boycott participation, Ms. Koontz seeks to protest the Israeli government’s actions, as well as the U.S. government’s support for those actions
The ACLU says the law that went into effect in July violates the First Amendment because it “imposes an ideological litmus test and compels speech related to state contractors’ protected political beliefs and associations.”