Muslim group sues to block ‘No Boycott of Israel’ measure

The executive order says a boycott based on religion, national origin or ethnicity is discriminatory. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Muslim group sues to block ‘No Boycott of Israel’ measure

  • The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ federal lawsuit seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in October 2017
  • The executive order says a boycott based on religion, national origin or ethnicity is discriminatory

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland: Maryland’s ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel tramples on the First Amendment rights of a software engineer who advocates for Palestinians, a Muslim civil rights group claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ federal lawsuit seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in October 2017.
The order requires contractors to certify in writing that they don’t boycott Israel. The group’s suit claims the order has an unconstitutional chilling effect on First Amendment-protected political advocacy supporting Palestine.
CAIR says 25 other states have enacted measures similar to Maryland’s, through legislation or executive orders. CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas said other federal lawsuits have challenged measures in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.
CAIR sued Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state legislator. Ali’s lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software program contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organizations that “contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.”
“Speech and advocacy related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is core political speech on a matter of public concern entitled to the highest levels of constitutional protection,” the suit says.
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the attorney general hadn’t seen the suit and doesn’t comment on pending litigation. A spokeswoman for Hogan’s office said, “We are confident that our executive order is completely consistent with the First Amendment and will be upheld in court.”
Ali, a resident of Gaithersburg, served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011 and represented Montgomery County as a Democrat. He accused Hogan, a Republican, of making an “end around” the Legislature by signing the executive order after lawmakers repeatedly rejected several “anti-BDS” bills targeting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“This is unacceptable, and Larry Hogan should know that our rights will not be stricken by him,” Ali said at a news conference in Baltimore.
The executive order says a boycott based on religion, national origin or ethnicity is discriminatory. A business boycott of Israel and its territories “is not a commercial decision made for business or economic reasons,” it says.
“Contracting with business entities that discriminate make the State a passive participant in private-sector commercial discrimination,” the order says.
In December, the Arkansas Times weekly newspaper sued to block a similar measure. That state law, which took effect in August 2017, requires contractors to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don’t sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office argued that boycotting Israel is not activity protected by the First Amendment.
“It is neither speech, nor is it conduct that is inherently expressive, nor associational activity that is afforded constitutional protection,” wrote attorneys representing Rutledge’s office.


Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

Updated 19 sec ago
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Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

  • It was not clear whether an aircraft or unmanned drone was behind the strike
  • Western powers have been divided over a push by Khalifa Haftar’s forces to seize Tripol

TRIPOLI: Libya has reopened Tripoli’s only functioning airport, aviation authorities said on a post on social media on Sunday.

Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital, but a later Facebook post noted the arrival of an African Airlines aircraft from Istanbul.

A Reuters reporter and several residents said they saw an aircraft circling for more than 10 minutes over the capital late on Saturday, and that it made a humming sound before opening fire on several areas.

An aircraft was heard again after midnight, circling for more than ten minutes before a heavy explosion shook the ground.

It was not clear whether an aircraft or unmanned drone was behind the strike, which triggered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Residents had reported drone strikes in recent days, but there has been no confirmation and explosions heard in the city center this time were louder than in previous days.

Residents counted several missile strikes, one of which apparently hit a military camp of forces loyal to Tripoli in the Sabaa district in the south of the capital, scene of the heaviest fighting between the rival forces.

Authorities closed Tripoli’s only functioning airport, cutting air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents. The airport in Misrata, a city 200 km to the east, remained open.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) force loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar started an offensive two weeks ago but has been unable to breach the government’s southern defenses.

If a drone strike was confirmed this would point to more sophisticated warfare. The LNA has so far mainly used aging Soviet-made jets from the air force of Muammar Qaddafi, toppled in 2011, lacking precision firepower and helicopters, according to residents and military sources.

The violence spiked after the White House said on Friday that US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Haftar earlier in the week.

The disclosure of the call and a US statement that it “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents.

Western powers have been divided over a push by Haftar’s forces to seize Tripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a cease-fire.

Both sides claimed progress in southern Tripoli on Saturday, but no more details were immediately available.

A Reuters TV cameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling but saw no apparent change in the frontline.

On Friday, two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. The fighting has killed 227 people and wounded 1,128, the World Health organization said before the air strikes.

On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.