Filmmaker says Georgia's anti-BDS law is in violation of free speech rights

Documentary filmmaker sues Georgia after refusing to sign oath declaring she will not boycott Israel.

Elad Benari ,

BDS protest
BDS protest

A documentary filmmaker who refused to sign the state of Georgia's required oath involving Israel is suing the state, saying the law is in violation of free speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

A Georgia law passed in 2016 and targeting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement requires some people to sign an oath pledging not to boycott the Israeli government in order to do business in the state.

In her federal lawsuit, Abby Martin says she refused to sign the oath, and her scheduled appearance this month at a Georgia Southern University media conference was then cancelled.

“I will not forfeit my constitutional rights by signing this pledge," Martin said at a Monday news conference to announce the lawsuit.

Spokespeople within Georgia's university system referred questions to Georgia Southern spokesman John Lester. He said Georgia Southern hasn't yet seen the lawsuit.

“Ms. Martin's concerns appear to be related to requirements of a state law enacted in 2016," Lester said in a statement quoted by AP.

The law “requires that anyone who wants to contract with the state of Georgia for services worth more than $1,000 sign an oath pledging that they will not boycott the Israeli government," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Georgia.

Martin was to be paid a $1,000 honorarium plus expenses to be the keynote speaker for the 2020 International Critical Media Literacy Conference. University officials reportedly asked her to sign a “Memorandum of Agreement" which stated: “You certify that you are not currently engaged in, and agree for the duration of this agreement not to engage in, a boycott of Israel."

After Martin refused to sign, the university prevented her from speaking and the entire conference was cancelled, the lawsuit states.

Georgia is one of over 25 states that have passed legislation against BDS in recent years. These include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Arizona announced last year that it would ease its rules to a state ban on doing business with companies that boycott Israel in an attempt to avoid potential lawsuits.

Texas also amended its anti-BDS law, which bans business with Israel boycotters, after the application of the law was vexed by embarrassing incidents and at least one lawsuit.