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US: Arkansas pays Jewish doctor who refused pledge to disavow BDS

Steven Feldman says money has not 'changed mistreatment of Palestinians', donates to Jewish Voice for Peace
People take part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration on 10 October 2015 in Paris, calling for a boycott of Israel
People take part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration on 10 October 2015 in Paris, calling for a boycott of Israel (AFP)

The US state of Arkansas has delivered a $500 payment to a Jewish doctor, reversing a decision to withhold the money after the doctor refused to sign a pledge promising not to boycott Israel.

The news was announced on Thursday in a joint news release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the latter of which will be receiving the $500 as a donation from the doctor, Steven Feldman.

“We are so grateful for Dr. Feldman’s generous donation to our work – and will use it to continue our efforts toward a future of justice, equality, and freedom for Palestinians, and for all people,” JVP executive director, Stefanie Fox, said in the news release.

"We all have the right - and obligation - to withhold our complicity in injustice," she said.

Feldman told the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) that the payment “hasn’t changed the mistreatment of Palestinian families yet, so I don’t feel very strongly about it one way or the other.”

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He donated the money to JVP and said: “I love those people. It’s one of those few Jewish organisations that, on this issue, is really following Jewish morality.”

Feldman, a dermatologist in North Carolina, had expected to receive an honorarium after speaking with medical students at the University of Arkansas. But when setting up a profile at the school’s online portal to collect his $500, one of the boxes he needed to check off required him to promise not to boycott Israel.

Feldman did not check the box, saying at the time that he "actively supports" a boycott of Israel "until Palestinian families are allowed to return to their homes, the homes from which we expelled them in the creation of the State of Israel".

Arkansas law requires all contractors with the state - in this case, a public university - to sign a pledge acknowledging they will not boycott Israel, which Feldman said was in conflict with his values. However, the law only applies to state contractors earning more than $1,000 in payments.

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While Feldman's honorarium was only half that amount, officials told him that being added to the state’s vendor system makes him eligible for future payments that could bring his total compensation to above $1,000.

In May, the attorney general of Arkansas said he believed Feldman is entitled to the money, saying in a statement that the money was an honorarium, not a contract.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states throughout the country that has implemented some form of legislation against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a grassroots campaign urging action to pressure Israel into complying with international law.

In other states, such as Texas, the law has been struck down as unconstitutional. However, newer iterations were passed afterward. Last year, US Senator Tom Cotton outlined a plan to introduce national legislation targeting the BDS movement. 

Earlier this year, a challenge against the law from a local newspaper, the Arkansas Times, had made its way all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to hear the case.

The newspaper said the law was "abhorrent and a violation of the Bill of Rights".

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