AP NEWS

ACLU files complaint against Texas schools, AG over Israel boycott law

December 18, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a federal complaint against Attorney General Ken Paxton, two universities and two school districts on Tuesday, alleging a 2017 state law that requires freelancers and contractors to sign a pledge against boycotting Israel violates the Constitution by forcing workers to chose between their livelihoods and beliefs.

Texas is among more than a dozen states to pass laws limiting its business with companies that boycott or divest from Israeli companies, or companies housed in Israeli-controlled territories. Many of those laws were passed in reaction to a growing number of business leaders and individuals who said they no longer would financially support those within the Middle Eastern country over its government’s treatment of Palestinians and continued expansion into Palestinian-held territories.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other lawmakers trumpeted the 2017 statute, or House Bill 89, as a stand against official Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions, or BDS groups, that have targeted Israel.

“As Israel’s number one 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 after signing HB 89 into law. “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”

The ACLU complaint comes one day after Bahia Amawi, a contracted speech pathologist for Pflugerville ISD, sued that school district for terminating her contract after she refused to certify that she would not boycott Israel. Amawi’s case drew national attention and reignited conversations about whether boycotts are protected under the First Amendment.

In its complaint, the ACLU said Texas’ law goes far beyond unfairly punishing those involved with BDS groups, affecting those who boycott Israel for personal reasons.

One freelance writer lost two contracts with the University of Houston after he refused to sign a pledge promising he would not to boycott Israel, according to the complaint. Other examples included in the complaint: A Rice University PhD candidate had to forfeit payment after judging a Klein ISD debate tournament because he is involved with a divestment campaign against Israel; a reporter for Texas A&M’s NPR affiliate signed a No Boycott of Israel certification against his conscious so he could keep his job; and a Palestinian-American student at Texas Tech could not judge high school debates in Lewisville ISD because he boycotts Israel.

Earlier this year, federal judges barred Arizona and Kansas from enforcing their versions of anti-boycott laws, according to the Arizona Republic and Wichita Eagle newspapers.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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