BDS graffiti sign
BDS graffiti signPhoto: Miriam Alster / Flash 90

A federal court struck down a Georgia state law that required contractors with the state to swear not to boycott Israel, the latest in a series of legal defeats for an anti-boycott campaign that pressed hard for laws targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“The requirement … that parties seeking to contract with the state of Georgia sign a certification that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel also is unconstitutional compelled speech,” said the ruling filed Friday by Mark Cohen, a U.S. District Court judge in Atlanta.

Cohen was ruling on a lawsuit brought by Abby Martin, a journalist who is harshly critical of Israel and embraces BDS. In 2019, Georgia Southern University had invited Martin to be the keynote speaker at a media conference for a $1,000 honorarium, then withdrew the invitation when she would not sign a contract swearing off BDS, as required by state law passed in 2017.

The ruling was the latest blow to a surge in anti-BDS laws passed with the help of a number of pro-Israel groups, particularly Christian pro-Israel groups, in the middle of the last decade. In addition to Georgia, courts in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas have ruled anti-BDS laws unconstitutional.

Left-wing groups have mounted legal challenges to the laws. Martin was joined in her lawsuit by a number of organizations opposed to anti-BDS legislation, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, J Street, the rabbinical human rights group T’ruah and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law School.

“My First Amendment rights were restricted on behalf of a foreign government, which flies in the face of the principles of freedom and democracy,” Martin said.