Founder of Arkansas newspaper battles state law that requires him to pledge support for Israel
(Screenshot via Fox16)

In an op-ed for The New York Times, the founder and publisher of The Arkansas Times talks about the time he received an ultimatum from an advertiser that in order to continue receiving ad dollars, representatives of his publication would have to sign a pledge that his company was not engaged in a boycott of Israel.

The University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College had refused to contract for advertising with Arkansas Times unless it signed the pledge. "...why would we be required to sign a pledge regarding a country in the Middle East?" Alan Leveritt writes.

"I understood the context of that email. In 2017, Arkansas pledged to enforce support for Israel by mandating that public agencies not do business with contractors unless those contractors affirm that they do not boycott Israel," Leveritt writes. "The idea behind the bill goes back 16 years. In 2005, Palestinian civil society launched a campaign calling for 'boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.' Around the world, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S., as it became known, gained momentum. In response, Israel and lobbyists have used multiple strategies to quash the movement. In the United States, one such strategy took the form of anti-B.D.S. bills. Currently, more than 30 states have provisions on the books similar to Arkansas's."

Leveritt says that although boycotting Israel was the last thing on his or his publication's agenda, he doesn't take political positions in return for advertising, so he rejected the advertiser's ultimatum.

"If we signed the pledge, I believe, we'd be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment," writes Leveritt.

Instead of signing, The Arkansas Times sued to overturn the law on the grounds that it violates the 1st and 14th Amendments.

As Leveritt points out, the Arkansas legislature is dominated by conservative evangelicals, such as the former Senate majority leader, Bart Hester.

"He is featured in the new documentary film 'Boycott,' directed by Julia Bacha and produced by the group Just Vision. 'Boycott' follows three plaintiffs, including me, challenging their states' anti-boycott laws. In the film, Senator Hester explains that his religious belief motivates everything he does as a government official, including writing Arkansas's anti-boycott law. He also explains his eschatological beliefs: 'There is going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the earth.' He added, 'Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that doesn't accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell.' Senator Hester and his coreligionists may see the anti-boycott law as a way to support Israel, whose return to its biblical borders, according to their reading of scripture, is one of the precursors to the Second Coming and Armageddon."

Read the full op-ed over at The New York Times.