Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Bahia Amawi Deserves Her Job Back

I oppose BDS, but the State has no business taking this teacher's job over it
Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 6.47.52 AM

For the record, I support Israel’s right to exist, and strongly oppose the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement designed to punish the Jewish state.

But this is un-American:

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

Here’s the Texas law:

Glenn Greenwald explains:

In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.

That’s nuts. Read the whole thing. What right should the state have to tell a public schoolteacher what she can and cannot buy, or what policies she cannot advocate? That is un-American. I would feel the same way if a state law forbade teachers from boycotting, or advocating the boycott of, Christian-owned businesses, for whatever reason. It’s not the state’s business, period, full stop.

Again: the BDS movement is wrong, and should be combated. But this is outrageous. I can’t get over the fact that Bahia Amawi, an American, can advocate against the interests of her own country, and be fine, but not Israel. Note that the bill was sponsored by an Evangelical and passed the Texas legislature by overwhelming margins.

UPDATE: David Bernstein at the Volokh blog says the Intercept has seriously misrepresented the Texas law, and that a lot of people on the Internet (including, I confess, me) have falsely reported on what the Texas law does. Bernstein writes, in part:

Texas has a law banning state entities from contracting with businesses, including sole proprietorships, that boycott Israel. As a result, just like local governments require contractors to certify that they adhere to many other state laws, such as anti-discrimination laws and financial propriety laws, they also must certify, in compliance with state law, that their business does not boycott Israel.

Here is the specific language Ms. Amawi was asked to sign (see appendix A):

Pursuant to Section 2270.001 of Texas Government Code, the Contractor affirms that it: 1. Does not currently boycott Israel; and 2. Will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract Pursuant to Section 2270.001 of Texas Government Code:

“Boycott Israel” means refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory, but does not include an action made for ordinary business purposes;and

“Company” means a for-profit sole proprietorship, organization, association, corporation, partnership, joint venture, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, or any limited liability company, including a wholly owned subsidiary, majority-owned subsidiary, parent company or affiliate of those entities or business associations that exist to make a profit.

Note that, consistent with the language and obvious intent of the law (see the text here, it’s even titled “PROHIBITION ON CONTRACTS WITH COMPANIES BOYCOTTING ISRAEL”), the school district certification applies to the business, “it,” not the individual “she.” Contrary to what I’ve been reading all over the internet, Ms. Amawi is not being asked to pledge that she, in her personal capacity, will not privately boycott Israel, much less that, e.g., she will not advocate for boycotting Israel or otherwise refrain from criticizing Israel.

Briefly on the First Amendment issue, it’s no different analytically than requiring a contractor to pledge that the business does not refuse to hire Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, veterans, or another state-designated group.

He may be right about that, but in one Houston suburb last year, applicants for Hurricane Harvey relief grants were asked to sign this statement:

“By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

Did the town of Dickinson misinterpret the law? It appears so. I still don’t understand what business it is of an American state to regulate whether or not its contractors do business with companies that hold a certain position regarding trade with a foreign country.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now