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The Threat to Free Speech from ‘Pro-Israel’ Hawks

The Washington Post reports [1] 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:

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 [5] 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 [6] 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 [7] 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.

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15 Comments To "The Threat to Free Speech from ‘Pro-Israel’ Hawks"

#1 Comment By Anthony M On December 18, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

It’s ludicrous, and it’s something hawks in both parties agree on wholeheartedly. It’s encouraging that both on the left and the right there is far more skepticism of Israel-first US policy among the younger cohort, but change can’t come soon enough.

Also quite hilarious that a movement which seeks to peacefully protest a foreign government for its actions conjures up such vitriol, while “bomb Iran” and similarly violent thoughts are bandied about in the public sphere without anyone batting an eye.

#2 Comment By Darrell On December 18, 2018 @ 4:27 pm

The 1st Amendment. She should sue. Even these courts, she will win. No person should be in office who cannot recognize that law is unconstitutional. You cannot tell someone they cannot not buy consumer goods. You cannot be against the individual mandate but want a criminal penalty for boycotting products.

#3 Comment By Adam On December 18, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

Land the unfree, home of the cowards. Remember, in order to reach Washington, you have to go through Tel-Aviv

#4 Comment By Stephen J. On December 18, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

Does a foreign government that gets billions of American’s tax dollars control certain people in America. Do we need a Mueller investigation on this foreign entity?

#5 Comment By Myron Hudson On December 18, 2018 @ 5:21 pm

“There is no question that these laws … impose what is effectively a test of loyalty to a foreign government.”

There is no question that these laws are ridiculous and unconstitutional. And in my opinion, close to treason. I’m pretty fed up with this 5th column. As far as I’m concerned anyone who really wants to “stand with Israel” that badly should get themselves over there.

#6 Comment By Steve S. On December 18, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

I have read that contractors contracting with Texas cities for Hurricane Harvey cleanup last year were also obliged to sign such documents.

So…here we have pro-Israel groups interfering with American government policies. And yet, it is only Russia that is claimed to have interfered with the 2016 election. Try running for congress without AIPAC support.

What I find unbelievable is the irony of “End Times” Christians actively promoting Israel to hurry along the “End Times” timetable while being clueless to the implied confession that they don’t trust God’s own timetable.

#7 Comment By Oleg Gark On December 18, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

“we should all be able to agree…”

Er, no. Zionism is based on deeply held religious beliefs and Zionists won’t be swayed by reasoned argument. They won’t willingly reform their treatment of Palestinians, nor will they cede their outsized influence over American politics. When it comes to a conflict between the 1st ammendment and Israeli interests, Israel will win every time.

If you find this situation unacceptable, you’ll be in for a fight because, otherwise, the current situation will never change.

I suggest starting by giving Gov. Greg Abbott both rhetorical barrels, then reloading. He’s selling out a constituent to foreign interests. Shame on him.

#8 Comment By Burlydave On December 18, 2018 @ 10:53 pm

The way to know who is in control of you, is to know who you are not allowed to speak about. I’m disgusted by what has happened to my country by placing the interests and values of other countries before our own.

#9 Comment By Patriot On December 18, 2018 @ 11:40 pm

Unbelievable.

How did Israel manage to do this? Inside America itself? It’s unprecedented and bizarre.

Where did our country go?

#10 Comment By minuteman On December 19, 2018 @ 12:16 am

The situation may be graver than has been reported thus far.

Politicians who have been taking Israel money may be growing fearful of the consequences, a popular backlash against Israel-related corruption of American politics, for example. These laws may be a first step toward criminalizing critical speech and using the police and the courts to control or silence popular anger.

#11 Comment By Viet Vet On December 19, 2018 @ 1:52 am

Proposition 1: It is antisemitic to accuse Americans who support Israel of dual loyalty

Proposition 2: It’s okay for American state governments to force Americans to sign oaths of loyalty to Israel

???

I’m confused. If I want to work for Texas, I have to swear an oath of loyalty to Israel? But that’s a prima facie violation of my Oath of Allegiance to America. How can any American politician have voted for such a law? What’s going on here?

#12 Comment By Labrador On December 19, 2018 @ 2:50 am

In fairness to Israel, I don’t think this is so much an effort by Israel itself to criminalize free speech in America as it is an excess of zeal on the part of corrupt American politicians vying for pro-Israel campaign donations.

It’s difficult to imagine a stupider move than to meddle in American politics like this – interfering with actual law-making in state legislatures! – and I doubt the Israelis are that stupid. On the other hand they are highly experienced in establishing deniability by using sympathetic locals, so it’s not out of the question.

The problem crosses state lines and may involve Israeli nationals. That makes it a federal matter, so it’s best if the FBI head up the investigation.

#13 Comment By Myron Hudson On December 19, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

Labrador: The simplest reason for the appearance of Israel criminalizing free speech in this country (as regards Israel) is that they really are doing it.

But there is more, and it’s deeper than seeking or preserving campaign financing. There is a significant subset of evangelicals in this country who are determined to bring about the end of days. One pre-requisite for this is Israel establishing specific borders. I know this; I grew up in it; I’ve seen the maps.

Other pre-requisites possibly met, as a point of interest: the same language (binary code) is spoken all over the world; a liar pretending to be what he is not now sits on the throne.

#14 Comment By Hybla Valley On December 19, 2018 @ 10:03 pm

@Labrador : “The problem crosses state lines and may involve Israeli nationals. “

It does a little more than cross state lines. It crosses national boundaries. It is being pushed internationally.

That means that “Israeli nationals” are almost certainly involved, and it raises myriad questions about whether there were any contacts between Israelis and US politicians.

This is potentially more explosive than the Mueller investigation questions about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. No one has yet suggested Trump went so far as to introduce any legislation to benefit Russia. But that is exactly what appears to have happened here. Laws were passed explicitly to benefit a foreign state.

#15 Comment By End Times On December 21, 2018 @ 3:41 am

This is an astonishing story.

The longer I live, the likelier it seems that within my lifetime what we used to dismiss as nightmare delusions of the Idaho bunker dwelling set will become accomplished fact.