A Jewish physician gave a speech at a public institution, but the state of Arkansas won’t pay him for it because he wouldn’t swear to boycott Israel.
Dermatologist Dr. Steve Feldman was compensated $500 by the state for his Zoom presentation to medical students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in February. Feldman, however, claimed that the state had withheld payment because he refused to sign the Arkansas laws since 2017 requirement that public contractors mark a commitment promising not to boycott Israel.
“They have a law in place that makes contracts with Arkansas dependent on your agreement not to boycott Israel, which I think is wrong,” Feldman, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“Growing up Jewish, the Holocaust taught me that treating other people badly is wrong,” says the Jew.
Several states, including Arkansas, have passed legislation to counter the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement against Israel.
The rules either prohibit the state from funding businesses that boycott Israel or, as in the case of Arkansas, require that state contractors commit not to do so.
Although courts have overturned most of these laws, Feldman’s lecture occurred in the same month that the U.S. The Supreme Court declined to take up a case questioning an Arkansas legislation.
His case is the most recent illustration of how such regulations impact transactions that would otherwise be typical for state business.
Israel is home to close relatives of Feldman. But he claimed that the pledge went against his moral and religious principles.
He is a pro-Palestinian activist who founded the Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience, an online-only resource, in addition to his medical practice.
According to the website, Jews should advocate for Palestinian rights because they are committed to standing up against injustice. Feldman declared that he is in favor of boycotting Israel.
I believe that only some sort of boycott can force Israel to permit Palestinian families to return to their homes so that everyone can coexist happily.
Feldman claimed he was still denied his $500 payment even though the Arkansas law, passed in 2017, only applies to contractors receiving more than $1,000 from the state.
He argued that his inclusion in the state’s vendor database would make him eligible for upcoming assignments totaling more than $1,000.
Feldman told JTA that he is considering his legal options and wouldn’t rule out filing a lawsuit against the government to promote Palestinian rights and to contest the federal Eighth Circuit Court’s finding that the constitution protected the statute.
“I’d want to file a lawsuit so that the Circuit Court retracts what they said or appeals to the Supreme Court so that people can see things they didn’t know,” he said.
Republican Tim Griffin, the attorney general of Arkansas, has stated that the law prohibits discrimination based on nationality.
After the Supreme Court declined to take the case, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he works to “ensure that taxpayers aren’t required to pay for anti-Israel and anti-Israeli discrimination.”
The Arkansas Times, now embroiled in the state’s anti-boycott statute, broke Feldman’s story first.
After being prompted to sign the anti-boycott promise so that the newspaper may carry advertisements from a public university, the paper’s publisher, Alan Leveritt, challenged the rule in court.
The lawsuit, which was the one that made it to the Supreme Court, claimed that the statute violated the First Amendment rights of the newspaper.
It drew support from liberal Jewish organizations and criticism from some pro-Israel organizations.
Leveritt asserted that although he doesn’t feel strongly about boycotts of Israel, his newspaper does not adopt a political stance in exchange for advertising.
Some state lawmakers have used the state-level laws banning boycotts of Israel as a model for laws that forbid other kinds of divestment campaigns, like those that target the fossil fuel or firearms industries.
Feldman considered signing the commitment, accepting the payment, and then boycotting Israel to see how the government would respond, but concluded that he couldn’t lie on a form.
Additionally, that goes against my Jewish moral code.