EPF PIN Expresses Disappointment in Supreme Court Decision

Episcopal Peace Fellowship - Palestine Israel Network
Posted Mar 2, 2023

The Palestine Israel Network (PIN) of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) is disappointed in a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) not to hear an ACLU appeal of a case that addresses the right to boycott and intersects with a number of issues taken up by The Episcopal Church.

On February 21, SCOTUS opted not to review a ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Arkansas Times v. Waldrip. The case began in 2018 when the publisher of the Arkansas Times refused to sign a state law-mandated pledge not to boycott the state of Israel on the basis that the pledge violated free speech and brought suit against the law. Eventually, the Eighth Circuit Court overruled its own appeals panel and let the Arkansas law stand.

More than 30 states have laws or executive orders in place designed to discourage boycotts of Israel. Legal actions in Kansas, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona have ruled in favor of allowing the right to boycott, but the SCOTUS decision leaves federal law unsettled and leaves many punitive state laws in place.

The 80th General Convention considered the issue of such laws in passing resolution C013 that opposes “legislation that penalizes or criminalizes support for all nonviolent boycotts, divestment and/or sanctions, especially on behalf of Palestinian human rights, as an infringement of First Amendment rights.”

A wealth of analyses and commentaries have examined the motivations for and objections to anti-boycott legislation. Palestine advocacy organizations and legal rights organizations have argued that the laws stifle dissent and freedom of speech. Proponents of the laws, on the other hand, argue that the laws are necessary to combat the global BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which they believe is antisemitic and attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel.

According to its website, the BDS movement is a non-violent Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality that “aims to end international support for Israeli violations of international law by forcing companies, institutions and governments to change their policies.” It poses three demands toward that end and through a series of actions over the years, The Episcopal Church has in fact supported all three; viz., end the occupation (Executive Council, 2006) and dismantle the Wall (GC resolution D081, 2003); affirm the right of return of Palestinian refugees (GC resolution B016, 2000); and recognize the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality (GC resolution C039, 2022).

In 1991, resolution D122 recognized “that a distinction exists between the propriety of legitimate criticism of Israeli governmental policy and action and the impropriety of anti-Jewish prejudice.”

The success at passing state laws similar to the one referenced in this case has given rise to a series of anti-boycott laws aimed at other issues; for example, boycotts of the fossil fuel and firearms industries, boycotts of companies that fail to offer reproductive health care or gender affirming care, and boycotts of companies that fail to meet workplace diversity and equity criteria.

Analysts point out that the SCOTUS decision does not imply a position on the issue, but rather may reflect a desire to wait for additional lower court rulings before taking it on. Attempts have also been made to pass federal anti-boycott laws, but so far have been unsuccessful.