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Texas Town's Residents to Get Harvey Aid Only if They Won't Boycott Israel

Flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in the Texas city of Port Arthur, which is about 90 miles east of Dickinson, site of the flap over disaster relief. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

The city of Dickinson, Texas, which was hit exceptionally hard by Hurricane Harvey, is requiring applicants for Harvey rebuilding funds to vow they won’t boycott Israel in a move the American Civil Liberties Union has called “an egregious violation of the First Amendment.”

Generally, the requirements outlined in Dickinson’s Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant Application and Agreement are predictable: Applicants must agree to follow building codes and get necessary permits, and to use distributed funds solely for their agreed-upon project. But the application then asks applicants to pledge they won’t boycott Israel. Section 11 of the application’s agreement states: “By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

 

“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 ACLU adds:

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 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.

The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are 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.

The ACLU is arguing that the government cannot make public benefits like hurricane disaster relief conditional on a commitment to abstain from constitutionally protected political expression. It is not clear at this time if any Dickinson residents have been denied benefits.

Dickinson City Attorney David W. Olson confirmed to ABC 13 that the strange stipulation was required per Texas legislation enacted earlier this year that prohibits all state agencies from entering into contracts or investing funds with those who boycott Israel. House Bill 89, which was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on May 2 and went into effect Sept. 1, states: “A governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.”

Dallas News reports:

The law, which is similar to laws in at least a dozen other states, took effect Sept. 1.

In January 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and said that he wanted legislators to work to approve such a ban.

When he signed the bill into law in May he said that “any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

Gov. Abbott said on his official website, “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.” His pro-Israel sentiment is echoed throughout Texas policies: a proposal request for a new police uniform contractor from the city of Galveston requires contractors to “verify under oath” that they do not boycott Israel.

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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