The State of Texas is headed to court after an anti-Israel speech pathologist sued her local school district for requiring its contractors to refrain from boycotting Israel.
First reported by Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept, naturalized citizen Bahia Amawi is suing Pflugerville ISD and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in federal court, alleging the implementation of a recently passed law infringes on her First Amendment right to free speech.
At issue is a law that passed the Texas Legislature last year preventing taxpayer dollars from going to companies and contractors who choose to boycott the nation of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Specifically, the legislation states:
“A governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it:
(1) does not boycott Israel; and
(2) will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.”
Authored by State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), the legislation passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin (131 to 0 in the Texas House and 25 to 4 in the Texas Senate) and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott last year, who touted it as a major victory.
“As Israel’s No. 1 trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel, and we will continue to build on our historic partnership,” Abbott said as he signed the legislation. “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”
Bureaucratic implementation of the law, however, has led to some confusion and bumps along the way, such as the City of Dickinson’s decision to require individuals seeking aid in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to agree not to boycott the nation of Israel.
Likewise, the Texas Association of School Boards recommended school districts adopt a policy of requiring those they enter into contracts with — including independent contractors such as Amawi — to agree not to boycott Israel during the length of their contract.
Reached for comment, King issued a statement defending the law against allegations that it discriminates against individuals, saying he would seek to clarify its misunderstandings in the coming session of the Texas Legislature.
“Texas’ anti-BDS law does not infringe on any individual or company’s right to express anti-Israel views or to boycott Israel. However, that doesn’t mean our taxpayer dollars will be allowed to subsidize discrimination by companies that boycott Israel,” said King. “Our state law narrowly regulates against state and local government involvement in discriminatory commercial activity. It does so in order to defend hundreds of millions of dollars in exports and employment interests that depend upon trade with Israel.”
“States have a long-standing precedent for restrictions on government contracting to protect and prevent discrimination. It is not unusual for there to be a misapplication of a new statute. I have been working on and will soon file a simple bill to alleviate any confusion to Texas’ anti-BDS law. The bill’s intent and focus will remain to address companies involved in discriminatory commercial activity.”
Texas Scorecard also reached out to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office for comment.
“Private citizens and companies have every right to express their views on any issue they wish by boycotting companies and citizens. They do not, however, have a right to use money they obtain from government contracts to make that statement,” said Director of Communications Marc Rylander. “The taxpayers of Texas do not want their money used to marginalize and attack a key ally and trading partner of Texas, and they have said so at the ballot box. They, too, have the right to express their views.”