“Kansas won’t let me train math teachers because I boycott Israel”

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Esther Koontz, math teacher and Mennonite Church member, is suing Kansas for denying her a position because of her faith-based boycott of Israel. (photo: ACLU)

Esther Koontz speaks out on her suit against the Kansas anti-Israel boycott law.

By Esther Koontz / ACLU Speak Freely / Oct 12, 2017


“I believe that the First Amendment protects my right, and the right of all Americans, to make consumer spending decisions based on their political beliefs. You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights. The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.”


I’m a member of the Mennonite Church. I’ve also been a math teacher for almost a decade. Because of my political views, the state of Kansas has decided that I can’t help it train other math teachers.

I was chosen last spring to participate in a program that trains public school math teachers all over Kansas. After completing a two-day preparation course in May, I was ready to take on the role.

But in June, Kansas passed a law requiring any individual or company seeking a contract with the state to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. That law affects me personally. As a member of the Mennonite Church USA, and a person concerned with the human rights of all people — and specifically the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights in Israel and Palestine — I choose to boycott consumer goods made by Israeli and international companies that profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights.

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ACLU sues Kansas for punishing teacher over Israel boycott

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Following its new law, Kansas denied longtime teacher Esther Koontz a new position because of her faith-based boycott of Israel.

By Zaid Jilani / The Intercept / Oct 13, 2017


“This law is clearly aimed at suppressing not just boycotts generally but one particular boycott based on its viewpoint. So we think that’s a blatant constitutional violation and we hope the court agrees with us.”
— Brian Hauss, ACLU staff attorney

“Whether in Kansas or in Congress, this kind of legislation is an anti-democratic attempt to silence a nonviolent movement for equality for Palestinians, and a just peace for everyone in the region. It sets an alarming precedent of curtailing free speech, in an era when mobilizing grassroots energy to resist repressive government policies is more important than ever.”
— Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace government affairs liaison


Esther Koontz is a long-time math teacher and curriculum coach at Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita, Kansas.

She’s also a member of the Mennonite Church USA, which in July voted to divest itself from American companies that profit off of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

One month prior to that vote, Kansas’s legislature passed into law House Bill 2409, which seeks to discourage boycotts of the state of Israel by prohibiting state contracts with individuals who refuse to say they will not engage in such boycott activity.

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Omaha schools cancel Palestinian speaker

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Palestinian activist Nora Carmi speaking at a BDS conference in South Africa, Aug 20, 2015. (photo: YouTube screenshot)

Parents and Anti-Defamation League complained in advance of a visit by a Palestinian Christian activist.

By The Times of Israel / Oct 6, 2017

Officials in a Nebraska school district have canceled scheduled talks at two high schools by a Palestinian Christian speaker due to concerns that Jewish students at one of the schools were being harassed ahead of her visit.

Nora Carmi is a Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist from Jerusalem who’s holding talks around the US this year, including a stop last week at Creighton University in Omaha.

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University of Chicago faculty and students smeared as “terrorist supporters”

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A poster recently displayed at the University of Chicago (redacted). (photo: W.J.T. Mitchell)

The David Horowitz Freedom Center targets supporters of Palestine and brands them as “terrorists” or “terrorist supporters.”

By Alex Ward / The Chicago Maroon / Oct 1, 2017


“I was scarcely aware of the existence of the Horowitz Center [before seeing my picture on the poster]. But a few minutes researching their activities reveal it to be a front organization for a hate group that seeks to defame and intimidate anyone who dares to criticize the state of Israel by calling them a terrorist, linking them to Hamas, and (of course) denouncing them as an anti-Semite. This is a thoroughly despicable group that perpetrates lies and slander directed at American universities and their students and faculty. I recommend that you look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s account of David Horowitz’s career.”
— University of Chicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell


Over the past week, posters targeting members of the University of Chicago community as “terrorist supporters” appeared around campus and have since been removed by the University. The posters included the names of 26 members of the University community, including the names and drawings of the faces of two members of the faculty.

The students named on the posters are affiliated with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and U of C Divest. The David Horowitz Freedom Center placed similar posters on campus in October of 2016 and May of this year, after College Council (CC) approved a resolution calling for the University to divest from companies connected to the Israeli occupation in May 2016.

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What is BDS?

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A sign is held aloft during a rally for Palestinian liberation in Berlin. (photo: Reuters)

BDS is a global non-violent movement using economic pressure to oppose to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

By Ramzy Baroud / Telesur / Oct 1, 2017


What are the goals of BDS?

    1. End the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and other Palestinian lands.
    2. Allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
    3. Assure equal rights for all Israeli citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

 


The BDS Movement was the outcome of several events that shaped the Palestinian national struggle and international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The BDS Movement was the outcome of several events that shaped the Palestinian national struggle and international solidarity with the Palestinian people following the Second Uprising (Intifada) in 2000.

Building on a decades-long tradition of civil disobedience and popular resistance, and invigorated by growing international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as exhibited in the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001, Palestinians moved into action.

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Holocaust survivor’s speech censored in UK

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Manchester University. (photo: Peter Byrne / PA)

Manchester University censored the title of a Holocaust survivor’s criticism of Israel and insisted that her campus talk be recorded, after Israeli diplomats said its billing amounted to antisemitic hate speech.

By Damien Gayle / The Guardian / Sep 29, 2017


“These events will cause Jewish students to feel uncomfortable on campus and that they are being targeted and harassed for their identity as a people and connection to the Jewish state of Israel.”
—Michael Freeman, Israeli embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs

“In educational institutions there shouldn’t be any sort of lobbying from foreign governments. You couldn’t imagine [the administration] sitting down with the Saudi embassy for an event about what’s going on in Yemen.”
— Huda Ammori, event organizer


Marika Sherwood, a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto, was due to give a talk in March about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, headlined: “You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me.”

But after a visit by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, and his civil affairs attaché, university officials banned organizers from using the “unduly provocative” title and set out a range of conditions before it could go ahead.

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BDS is the only lever against Israeli occupation and apartheid

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A BDS poster in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on June 5, 2015. (photo: AFP)

Thinking that Israel can fix a colonial, apartheid regime without outside help is a dangerous illusion.

By Ruchama Marton / Haaretz / Sep 26, 2017


As long as Jewish Israelis who do not support BDS think it is possible to change from within, they are like the parable of the rabbit who wanted to change the lion from within. So the lion ate him. The rabbit did enter the lion but there his story ended.


In his article in Haaretz, Uri Avnery responds to what I said at my 80th birthday party. “Some of my friends believe the fight is lost, that it’s no longer possible to change Israel ‘from within,’ that only outside pressure can help and that the external pressure that is capable of doing this is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. One of these friends is Dr. Ruchama Marton,” he writes.

“First of all, I profoundly reject the argument that there is nothing we can do to save the state, and that we must trust foreigners to do our job for us. Israel is our state. We are responsible for it,” says Avnery.

Here is my response to him.

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