Arkansas Times publisher explains stance on Israel boycott law to readers of New York Times

Jan 1, 2022

Arkansas Times Publisher Alan Leveritt refused to comply with the state law. (Submitted)

Senior editor | Arkansas Times

Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, explains in an op-ed for the New York Times why we refused to comply with a state law punishing businesses that refuse to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t boycott Israel (something we weren’t contemplating.)

As Leveritt explains, the case is about the First Amendment and the government entanglement with religion on the state’s side. About that second part:

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’ 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.

In other words, Senator Hester and other supporters of the law entwine religion and public life in a manner that we believe intrudes on our First Amendment rights.

Our ACLU-backed challenge of the law is awaiting a decision from the full U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Republican-dominated bench that inspires pessimism about the outcome.

The article is currently available online ( Leveritt said he was told the New York Times had plans to publish it a Sunday print edition. It’s about more than Israel, as Leveritt notes:

Although the Arkansas press has covered the case, there has been little editorial support for or comment on our fight beyond that. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette signed the pledge — as did Arkansas Business, our business journal. And yet freedom of expression is a sacred American value and foundational to our democratic ideals.

If these anti-boycott laws are allowed to stand, get ready for a slew of copycat legislation. Texas passed two laws that went into effect on Sept. 1 — one prohibiting state agencies from conducting business with contractors that boycott fossil fuels and another preventing agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott firearm companies or trade associations.

What the outcome of The Arkansas Times’ lawsuit will be is unclear. One thing, however, remains crystal clear: These anti-boycott laws, allowing government to use money to punish dissent, will encourage the creation of ever more repressive laws that risk strangling free speech for years to come.

And though it’s not about boycotts yet, don’t forget the ongoing stifling — with threats of violence in some venues — of schools and libraries disseminating comprehensive sex education and information about the country’s racial history.

Max Brantley is senior editor of the Arkansas Times.