The Question of BDS and its Counterpart in Congress and Texas
By: Ivey Noojin/Arab America Contributing Writer
This past week the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement in protest to Israeli occupation has gained significant coverage. Two senators are trying to stop a stipulation in Congress that would make the BDS movement criminal. However, this proclivity for anti-boycott does not only exist on the federal level; it does within more than half the states as well. One woman who worked in the Texas school district came up close and personal to that fact and was fired.
However, a lot of this news has not gotten much media attention. With the Trump administration, there is always too much to cover everything. That is why a comprehensive review of this silent situation is important.
The Bill in Congress
Several senators are trying to pass an anti-boycott of Israeli products into legislation by sneaking it into a budget bill. With this clause, U.S. companies and individuals would not be able to consciously avoid Israeli imports without receiving punishment from the justice system. Also, the stipulation would create a database of companies in Israel that have the potential to boycott and therefore economically harm the country. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) added this addition to the final budget of 2018, over which Congress is currently fighting. He knew that the Israel anti-boycott clause would hardly get any media attention because of the looming threat of a government shutdown, and he was right.
However, senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) noticed and are fighting back. They have sent out emails to their constituents and subscribers to notify them of the situation. These two senators are not the only ones reacting negatively to this news. The New York Times Editorial Board, the Washington Post, and the American Civil Liberties Union have as well.
This is not the only time an anti-boycott stipulation for Israel has appeared in Congress. In 1977, the Export Administration Act passed, which intended to protect U.S. companies from the Arab League boycott of Israel. Congress sided with Israel then and it continues to do so now.
However, this could change with next term’s House of Representatives. Several elected members have publicly endorsed efforts to boycott Israel, including Rashida Tlaib from Michigan and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota. Israeli lobbyists have been extremely effective at keeping their anti-BDS legislature quiet, but it seems like that is finally coming to an end.
For years, there has been an intensive lobbying effort at the state level to keep anti-boycott stipulations under wraps. In over half of the states, government employees must sign a clause in their contract that states they do not and will not support the BDS movement. Essentially, states are choosing Israel over its citizens, and people are now starting to fight back.
Bahia Amawi: Texas’s Stance on BDS
Bahia Amawi is a children’s speech pathologist who lives in Texas. She worked for the Pflugerville Independent School District for the past nine years and was the only certified Arabic-speaking speech pathologist in the district. However, last year in August, the school district fired her for refusing to sign a contract with an anti-boycott clause. On Dec. 17 of this year, she decided to sue the state for wrongful termination.
In 2017, there were four different pages to her contract than usual with a set of new codes and compliances. While reading through it, she stopped cold when she noticed a section that stated she must not in the future or in the present boycott any Israeli product.
“It was a violation of everything,” Amawi said on an interview with Democracy Now.
She grew up in Palestine and knew first hand of the Israeli oppression on her people. Some of her family is still living in occupied territory. Amawi was shocked to see this stipulation in her contract because it has nothing to do with her job.
“It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights,” Amawi said in an interview with The Intercept.
Even though she is not an active member of BDS, Amawi did admit she avoids items she knows are connected to Israel. However, not signing the contract was an easy decision for her: she just thought of the future for her four children. Amawi didn’t want the Israel anti-boycott clause to grow even more popular than it already had and knew she had to take a stand.
The Silent Issue
Amawi had heard about the law in other states but did not know it existed in Texas. In May 2017, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed the bill and pledge unequivocal support to Israel.
“It kind of went undetected,” Amawi said on Democracy Now. “It wasn’t something they advertised or talk about in the media.”
She is not the only one living with the consequences of this law, though. The children, especially those who speak Arabic, are also suffering. They are being deprived of their speech pathologist because Texas is denying its citizens their First Amendment rights in support of Israel.
The biggest issue is that many government workers do not even know they signed this stipulation within their contract. It has nothing to do with their job, and there is no other country for which the United States has passed anti-boycott laws, attorney Gadeir Abbas with the Council on American-Islamic Relations said. These workers could be disqualified from working for any kind of public employment, just because they support BDS.
But the fight has begun, and people are taking notice. Bahia Amawi forced news coverage on this issue, and the 2018 budget bill with the Israel anti-boycott clause will not pass. There is still time to right this wrong.