Act 710 of 2017
aka: Anti-BDS Law
Act 710 of 2017 prohibits the state from contracting with, or investing in, companies that “boycott Israel.” The law was passed at a time when the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) was gaining increasing success internationally, sparking a backlash, especially in the United States, a country with significant military and economic ties to the nation of Israel, as well as a large population of evangelical Christians who believe that American support for Israel is necessary for advancing the Second Coming of Christ.
The BDS movement formally originated in 2005 as part of the Palestinian-led resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The movement was inspired by similar actions taken internationally against the apartheid regime of South Africa and sought to inspire people, companies, and states to distance themselves from entities participating in the illegal (according to international law) Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The stated goal was to boycott companies and other agencies doing business in the Occupied Territories, encourage investors to divest themselves of stock or other investments in such countries, and encourage nations to sanction organizations participating in or facilitating the occupation.
In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to pass an anti-BDS law. By 2019, some twenty-seven states had passed laws that, in some measure, prohibited boycotts relating to the state of Israel. Many of these states essentially copied the bills from each other; this is referred to as filing “model bills” or “cookie-cutter legislation.” Judges in Texas, Arizona, and Kansas ruled against these laws. In Kansas, a Mennonite school teacher was fired from a teacher-training program over her refusal to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel, and when a federal judge struck down the law, the state legislature rewrote it so that it affected not individuals but only businesses of a certain size that sought to contract with the state. On July 25, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement. However, the U.S. Supreme Court, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, ruled that boycotts are exercises of freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, saying that boycotts were a significant tool of the civil rights movement of the twentieth century.
Senator Bart Hester introduced the anti-BDS bill, Senate Bill 513, into the Arkansas General Assembly on February 28, 2017. The bill passed on March 13 with twenty-nine legislators voting yes, two present, and three not voting. In the House, the bill passed on March 22 with sixty-nine yes votes and three no votes, with twenty-eight not voting. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the bill on March 27.
Among some supporters of the BDS movement, the goal of boycotting those companies or institutions directly or indirectly involved in the occupation of Palestinian lands expanded to include Israeli businesses, institutions, and individuals as a whole, regardless of any ties they might have to occupational forces. Some critics have thus accused the BDS movement of anti-Semitism. However, Act 710 also conflates Israel with the territories it occupies, defining a boycott of Israel as “engaging in refusals to deal, terminating business activities, or other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”
Under Act 710, the State of Arkansas or any of its agencies (including colleges and universities) cannot contract for any good or service valued at more than $1,000 with any company that is regarded as engaging in a boycott of Israel or that has investments in companies that boycott Israel. Individuals and companies seeking to enter into a contract must sign a form certifying that they do not boycott Israel and that they will refrain from doing so for the duration of the contract.
In December 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of the Arkansas Times, filed suit against the State of Arkansas after the Times was approached by the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College to sign an anti-boycott form in order to secure future advertising contracts. The Times had never participated in such a boycott, but company leaders regarded this new requirement as an unconstitutional infringement upon freedom of speech. Judge Brian Miller dismissed the suit on January 23, 2019, asserting that the Times had no standing to sue. Later in the year, the ACLU filed a brief with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse this ruling. On February 12, 2021, the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the Times, asserting that the act in question “seeks to restrict government contractors’ ability to participate in speech and other protected, boycott-associated activities recognized as entitled to protection under Supreme Court precedent,” and sent the case back to district court.” The court, however, did not enjoin enforcement of the law, and the state continued to require individuals and businesses to sign the pledge. On June 10, 2021, the Eighth Circuit granted a petition by the state and ordered a rehearing by the full court, vacating the earlier ruling.
For additional information:
Act 710 of 2017. Arkansas General Assembly. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2017/2017R/Acts/Act710.pdf (accessed December 5, 2019).
Adame, Jaime. “9 States Support Anti-Boycott Law.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 13, 2019, p. 5B.
———. “Filing Supports Law on Israel Boycotts.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 2, 2019, pp. 1B, 7B.
———. “Groups Back Test of Boycott Law.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 16, 2019, p. 5B.
———. “State Gets Rehearing on Ban of Boycotts.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 11, 2021, pp. 1B, 5B.
———. “Times Claims Law’s Defense Forgets History.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 9, 2019, pp. 1B, 6B.
Bowden, Bill. “Decision Disputes No-Boycott State Edict.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 13, 2021, pp. 1B, 3B.
Brantley, Max. “Growing Free Speech Concern on Israel Boycott Law.” Arkansas Blog, August 30, 2018. https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2018/08/30/growing-free-speech-concern-on-israel-boycott-law (accessed December 5, 2019).
Satter, Linda. “Halt Boycott-Law Suit, State Urges Court.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 4, 2019, pp. 1B, 8B.
———. “Judge to Issue Order on Israel-Pledge Law.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 5, 2019, pp. 1B, 8B.
———. “Suit over Israel Boycott Law Tossed.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 24, 2019, pp. 1B, 5B.
Thrall, Nathan. “BDS: How a Controversial Non-Violent Movement Has Transformed the Israel-Palestine Debate.” The Guardian, August 14, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/14/bds-boycott-divestment-sanctions-movement-transformed-israeli-palestinian-debate (accessed December 5, 2019).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 06/11/2021