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Texas town: No hurricane aid for those boycotting Israel

Hurricane Harvey's massive flooding destroyed tens of thousands of homes in the US [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 October, 2017

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US city is requiring applicants for aid to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to pledge in writing that they will not take part in a boycott of Israel
A US city is requiring applicants for aid to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to pledge in writing that they will not take part in a boycott of Israel, triggering condemnation from free speech groups.

In official application forms, the city of Dickinson, Texas, is requiring anyone asking for Hurricane Harvey rebuilding funds to fill an item titled "Verification not to Boycott Israel," which reads: By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies hat the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement."

The American Civil Liberties Union criticised the city’s condition as a violation of free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura.

“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”

The city appears to be enforcing a recently passed Texas law that requires all state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel.

While the ACLU does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries, the organization said it has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to laws and bills that infringe on the right to boycott.

Israel Anti-Boycott have collected cosponsors from across the political spectrum in the US, including right-wing and moderate Republicans as well as moderate and liberal Democrats

Criminalising BDS

The ACLU statement continued: "The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycottsare protected by the First Amendment, and other decisions have established that the government may not require individuals to sign a certification regarding their political expression in order to obtain employment, contracts, or other benefits."

On October 11, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Kansas law on behalf of a high school math teacher who is being required by the state to sign to certify that she won’t boycott Israel if she wants to take part in a teacher training program.

In July, the ACLU sent a letter to members of Congress opposing a bill that would make it a felony to support certain boycotts of companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

The Senate bill, Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720), was introduced in the US Senate by Democratic Senator from Maryland Benjamin Cardin on 23 March 2017. The bill's number of cosponsors has been rising steadily since then, reaching 46 currently; 32 Republican and 14 Democratic Senators, which constitutes close to half the Senate.

A similar bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R.1697) was also introduced in the US House of Representatives on the same day by Peter Roskam, Republican Representative of Illinois's 6th District. The House bill has 249 cosponsors; 185 Republicans and 64 Democrats, constituting close to 60 percent of the House.

The bills were introduced at the time of the annual conference of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, and match one of its lobbying agenda items for 2017. The bills are even said to have been drafted with the help of AIPAC. 

Israel Anti-Boycott have collected cosponsors from across the political spectrum in the US, including right-wing and moderate Republicans as well as moderate and liberal Democrats. The support that this proposal enjoys confirms AIPAC's powerful position in Washington, where this might be the lone instance of bipartisanship in US Congress.

Israel sees the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism. The state recently passed a law banning BDS supporters from entering Israel.

The BDS movement, which denies any accusations of anti-Semitism and says this is a ploy used by Israel, calls for a global boycott of Israel, among other demands, until the country withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories.

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