Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist in Round Rock Texas, has filed a lawsuit against a 2017 Texas law that requires all state contractors to pledge not to boycott the state of Israel during the term of their contract. Amawi, a Palestinian American who had provided speech pathology services for the Pflugerville Independent School District for the previous nine years, refused in August 2018 to sign a new contract that included this clause. She consequently lost her job, as her contract was not renewed.
Texas is one of 26 states to have passed laws preventing state agencies from contracting with any organization or individual who boycotts Israel or Israeli products. Now, efforts are underway to make it a federal crime to call for the boycott of Israel. Benjamin Cardin, Democratic Senator from Maryland, has attached a rider to the budget bill, that would impose financial penalties on a federal level for those participating in a boycott of Israel. As an attachment to the budget, it would not need a separate vote. Some liberal capitalist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein, who are not supporters of BDS, have written letters in opposition to anti-BDS legislation proposed in Congress as an attack on free speech. They are a minority. A similar bill proposed by Cardin last year had 43 co-sponsors—29 Republicans, 14 Democrats.
Anti-BDS laws are meant to suppress voices of opposition to Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people. These laws are reminiscent of the anti-communist oaths people were forced to take for employment in the 1950s during the period of McCarthyism.
Two other lawsuits in addition to Asmawi’s have been filed against anti-BDS statutes on the state level. One was filed by students and staff at three different high schools and universities in Texas, and a second by a local Arkansan newspaper against the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College. They maintain that one must not be forced to choose between employment and one’s First Amendment right to free speech.
This is ‘against my constitutional rights’
“Every year I get a contract that’s exactly a duplicate of the year before,” Amawi said in an interview with Democracy Now! “A few weeks later, my speech coordinator contacted me and said, ‘Well, Bahia, we have additional papers this year.’ … I was reading it, and it states that currently—the contractor must affirm that it currently does not or will not boycott Israel…”
Amawi contacted the school. “I sent the email to my speech coordinator telling her, ‘Listen, I cannot sign this. This is against my principles, against my constitutional rights. And it’s also against my moral and ethical values, considering that I am a Palestinian American and I have family that actually live in the Occupied Territories, so it affects me personally, as well.’ So, it affects me in both ways—as an American citizen and as a Palestinian American, too.”
These laws are an attempt to stop the successful and growing Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to create an international campaign to impose economic sanctions on the state of Israel for the genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people.
What BDS calls for
The BDS call states:
Given that, since 1948, hundreds of UN resolutions have condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies; and
Given that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine; and
In view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions; and Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression;
We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.
Israeli lies and repression more exposed than ever
Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Zionist state’s unwavering goal has been to remove Palestinians from occupied Palestine using war, terrorism and economic strangulation. Despite facing an overwhelming enemy backed by U.S. imperialism, the Palestinian people have stood their ground and resisted in many different forms including the BDS movement.
Israeli leaders and supporters try to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to suppress any opposition to Israeli policy and use this to suppress the BDS movement. In 1975, however, Zionism was rightly condemned as “a form of racism and racial discrimination” by the United Nations in General Assembly resolution 3379.
With the passing of the nation-state law by the Israeli Knesset that codifies that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination inside Israel, the racist and colonial nature of Zionism has been stripped of any façade of democracy. The world movement against this settler state is growing and there were numerous gains made by the BDS movement in 2018 that include:
- Airbnb decided it would no longer profit from most illegal Israeli settlements
- Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. members of Congress to publicly endorse BDS.
- Amnesty International called for an arms embargo on Israel. It slammed the United States and the European Union for their military deals with Israel and held them responsible for “fueling mass violations” of Palestinian human rights.
- The Movement for Black Lives released a powerful statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people and called for the United States to end its $38 billion in annual military aid to Israel.
- 40 international Jewish social justice organizations recognized that the BDS movement for Palestinian rights has a proven commitment to “fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry.” They condemned attempts to stifle criticism of Israel’s policies.
The BDS movement is gaining more and more support across the globe because it upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.
As Bahia Amawi explained, “The point of boycotting any product that supports Israel is to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment, of the Palestinian people. Having grown up as a Palestinian, I know firsthand the oppression and the struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis.”
Support Bahia Amawi! Say no to anti-BDS laws!