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Speech Pathologist Sues for Her Right to Boycott Israel in Texas

The wall between the West Bank and East Jerusalem – in Texas, silence is also golden when it comes to criticizing Israel.EXPAND
The wall between the West Bank and East Jerusalem – in Texas, silence is also golden when it comes to criticizing Israel.
DZarzycka/iStock

A Texas speech pathologist is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Pflugerville Independent School District over a Texas law that requires contractors and businesses to sign a pledge promising not to boycott Israel.

For nine years, plaintiff Bahia Amawi signed an annual contract with Pflugerville ISD without an issue, but that changed this year when her contract came with a new provision, according to a lawsuit filed early Monday.

“The contract this year had several new codes and compliances we had to sign,” she says. “This was the only one that was not related to my job.”

That code is part of a 2017 Texas law, dubbed the anti-Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Law, that states that any business or contractor cannot “boycott Israel currently” or “will not boycott Israel during the term of this contract.”

To keep her job, Amawi had to sign her new contract with that clause. She refused.

“I was shocked because I didn't know what my position as a speech therapist helping kids improve their language in an elementary school had to do with economic harm to Israel and why the government was trying to be involved in restricting me in boycotting a certain entity,” Amawi says. “I felt like my rights were taken away and that I had no choice in what products I could purchase.”

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement that aims to emulate the success of boycotts that helped end South African apartheid in the early 1990s. Through calling for boycotts of Israeli goods, BDS applies economic pressure it hopes will lead to the end of Palestinian occupation and colonization in the Middle East. Products that are commonly boycotted include those made by companies operating in Israeli-occupied territories or in illegal Israeli settlements, for instance, Sabra, Victoria’s Secret, L’Oréal and SodaStream.

Those were the types of products Amawi was choosing not to buy and which eventually cost her a job.

“Were she to go to another school district, she would have the same problem of public entities imposing this loyalty oath on individuals and companies who they contract with,” says Gadeir Abbas, the Council on American-Islamic Relations senior litigation attorney. “It is especially important that this is happening now, because Congress is considering a law that would do something similar for everybody in the country.”

Abbas is talking about the Israel Anti-Boycott Act that was introduced in the House last year.

According to Palestine Legal, anti-BDS legislation has been enacted in 26 states with legislation introduced or pending in 13 more.

Amawi said she hopes people all over the country will double-check their contracts before signing away their constitutional rights.

“It affects everybody, really,” she said. “It doesn’t matter your origin or anything. It targets everyone’s free speech.”

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In response to the lawsuit, a Pflugerville ISD spokesperson said in a statement, “This language is required by the State of Texas for all school districts in Texas, along with other governmental entities. Pflugerville ISD is committed to educating all students to be productive members of a diverse global community. Unfortunately, Pflugerville ISD and all Texas school districts are at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law, and in situations such as this, we are forced to spend time on state political issues and not on our core mission —  educating students. Although Pflugerville ISD is the focus of the lawsuit, this is a state issue that affects all Texas public school districts and should be addressed at the state level.”

Last year, as Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-BDS bill into law he said, “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

But Amawi disagrees.

“It's against freedom of speech. It's against the right to protest and against the Constitution,” she said. “It’s a violation of my civil liberties and really everyone’s who is an American citizen.”

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