One of more than 25 states to put anti-BDS legislation on the books, Arkansas is a battleground in a conflict that’s gone national.
When letters first showed up on Alan Leveritt’s desk saying the Arkansas Times was required to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to continue to receive state contracts, he ignored them.
“I was frankly not aware there was a boycott of Israel when I started getting these notices,” Leveritt told NBC News.
As the publisher of the Arkansas Times, a monthly magazine based in Little Rock, he relies on advertisement revenue from state entities to keep his business afloat.
“Publishing a newspaper is not a lucrative business right now,” he said, adding that he’d hoped the letters would just “go away.”
But eventually, a purchasing manager at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College, who Leveritt pointed out was “just going by the letter of the law,” insisted that he sign the pledge to retain their ad revenue.
Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times.
Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times.Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times
The purchasing manager was following Act 710, a 2017 bill passed in the Arkansas Legislature “to prohibit public entities from contracting with and investing in companies that boycott Israel.”
This means that if a company wanted a state contract over $1,000, the public entity granting the contract had to certify that the company does not participate in a boycott of Israel. If a company doesn’t sign the pledge, Arkansas law allows it to still receive a contract if it offers its services at a reduction of at least 20 percent.
Act 710 was passed as a way for the Arkansas Legislature to affirm its support for Israel and respond to the BDS movement, a growing pro-Palestinian effort which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to secure Palestinian rights.
While Leveritt isn’t shy in saying the Arkansas Times leans “left of center,” neither he nor the publication has ever supported a boycott of Israel or the broader BDS movement.
“We don’t have a dog in that hunt,” Leveritt said. “We are a lot more interested in Medicaid expansion than we are Jerusalem.”
But now a geopolitical issue he felt like he had no stake in was affecting his already precarious small business.
Leveritt thought about signing the pledge. “To have something like this thrown on top of you is enough to capsize the boat,” he said. Ultimately, Leveritt said he couldn’t go through with it, though.
He believed being forced to sign a pledge like the one Act 710 mandated violated his constitutional rights and his journalistic ethics.