The Threat to Free Speech from ‘Pro-Israel’ Hawks
The Washington Postreports on the outrageous firing of a speech pathologist in Texas because she refused to sign a contract requiring that she wouldn’t participate in a boycott of Israel:
Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who has worked as a contractor in a Texas school district for nine years, received a new contract agreement to sign in September for the upcoming school year.
The agreement asked her to affirm that she did not boycott Israel and assert that she would not while working for the school.
She declined to sign it. Amawi, an American citizen of Palestinian descent who was born in Austria, said the statements infringed on her principles: her stance on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and her belief in the First Amendment. So she was forced to stop working with the district.
The contract, which stems from a 2017 law passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature and governor that prohibited state agencies from contracting with companies boycotting Israel, is the subject of a lawsuit filed this week by Amawi in federal district court in Austin.
The Texas law in question is one of dozens that have been passed in recent years across the country in an attempt to sanction political speech about Israel that “pro-Israel” hawks deem unacceptable. There is no question that these laws represent a blatant infringement on the First Amendment rights of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters, and they impose what is effectively a test of loyalty to a foreign government. Americans are and should be free to engage in political speech and action, and their right to do so is one of the essential protections guaranteed in the Constitution.
No one should have to check his or her political rights at the door in order to be employed by the state of Texas or by any other government in this country. More broadly, no American should have to toe an ideological line created to shield a foreign government from the consequences of its policies. In addition to penalizing speech that the state wants to discourage and thus violating the Constitution, the Texas law betrays an excessive attachment to a foreign country. There is something deeply wrong when American lawmakers would sooner trample on the Constitution to demonstrate their solidarity with a client state on the other side of the planet.
Texas Gov. Abbott summed up the state government’s mindless position when he tweeted the following:
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 17, 2018
This posturing will probably play very well with many of Abbott’s voters, but it is profoundly misguided to put “standing” with a foreign country–any foreign country–above the rights protected by the Constitution. If it were any other country besides Israel, Republicans would likely be among the first to see how preposterous Abbott’s position is and how outrageous Texas’ law is.
I agree with Rod Dreher’s comments on the Amawi case:
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.
It isn’t the business of any government. Unfortunately, there is similar federal legislation under consideration that its supporters are trying to sneak through at the end of the year as part of the omnibus. Alex Emmons and Ryan Grim reported earlier this month on this law:
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin is making a behind-the-scenes push to slip an anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during the lame-duck session, according to four sources familiar with the negotiations.
The measure, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, was shelved earlier amid concerns about the infringement of free speech, after civil liberties groups argued that the original version would have allowed criminal penalties for Americans who participate in a political boycott of Israel. Some of the more aggressive elements of the provision have been removed under pressure, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which spearheaded the initial opposition to the bill, is still strongly opposed.
In a letter to Congress, the ACLU warned that the amended version still creates unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. “We understand the Senate is considering attaching a revised version of S. 720 to the end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill, and we urge you to oppose its inclusion,” reads a letter dated December 3.
Paul Waldman comments on Cardin’s effort today:
Cardin is advocating a revised version of his bill, after the first one — which seemed to allow Americans to be prosecuted, fined and even jailed for advocating a boycott of Israeli products — was toned down. But groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union still oppose it, arguing that it “leaves intact key provisions which would impose civil and criminal penalties on companies, small business owners, nonprofits, and even people acting on their behalf who engage in or otherwise support certain political boycotts.”
The law that forced Ms. Amawi out of her job and the law that is being considered in Congress are part of a broader effort to stifle legitimate criticism of and opposition to the policies of the Israeli government and its treatment of Palestinians. No matter what one thinks of that criticism and opposition, we should all be able to agree that no one should be penalized by the government for engaging in protected political speech and action.