By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) - A Muslim rights group filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland Wednesday to block a measure seeking to stop state agencies from doing business with companies, entities, or individuals who boycott Israel.
Software engineer Saqib Ali was seeking to obtain a contract with Maryland to develop a tool to compare life insurance policies.
In order to obtain the contract, he would have to sign a pledge saying he would not boycott Israel or any territories occupied by Israel, effectively denying his ability to participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
"I refused to sign such a pledge," Ali said at a news conference. "Palestinians are not free, they live under a brutal military occupation, and until that occupation has ended, I decided that I would boycott Israel. It is my First Amendment right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."
Ali, a former Maryland state legislator, worked with the Council of American Relations (CAIR) to file the lawsuit.
The BDS movement was formed in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society and rights groups to pressure Israel to ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
It demands a boycott of Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian human rights, and for other institutions to divest their interests in those companies.
BDS has recently been met by resistance in the U.S. with many states passing anti-BDS laws to criminalize anti-Israel sentiment.
The anti-BDS legislation was first enacted by U.S. President Donald Trump through an executive order in October 2017. Now 26 states have established similar measures.
According to CAIR, this is the sixth lawsuit targeting the measure.
"It is unconstitutional and dangerous especially because it prioritizes the interests of a foreign government, that is in violation of international law, above Marylanders’ first amendment rights," Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach director of CAIR, said at the news conference.