ACLU Sues Texas Over State’s Israel Anti-Boycott Law

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, challenging a state law which requires government contractors to verify they do not and will not boycott Israel.

Last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 89, anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) legislation into law. It prohibits state agencies from contracting with entities that boycott Israel. The law also bars state pension and endowment funds like the Teacher Retirement System, the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the University of Texas Investment Management Company, and the permanent school fund from investing with companies that boycott Israel.

The Texas anti-BDS law stands against the discriminatory BDS movement which uses false, distorted, and anti-Semitic rhetoric to demonize Israel and its citizens to isolate the Jewish state.

In a press release, the ACLU of Texas said their lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individuals who claimed they were forced to choose between signing the pro-Israel pledge or “forego professional opportunities.” The ACLU alleges that HB 89 violates the First Amendment’s protection against government intrusion into political speech. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with two school districts and two universities, are listed as defendants in the complaint.

The ACLU announced the lawsuit in several tweets. One stated, “Wherever one stands on this debate, the government cannot require a political litmus test for those it does business with.”

“This lawsuit is about fundamental First Amendment rights, which protect us all from having the government use its power to force us to choose one side or another in a public debate,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, in a prepared statement. “Whatever you may think about boycotts of Israel, the bottom line is that political boycotts are a legitimate form of nonviolent protest. The state cannot use the contracting process as an ideological litmus test or to tell people what kind of causes they may or may not support.” Another staff attorney, Brian Hauss, called HB 89 “misguided.”

In response, Texas AG spokesman Mark Rylander told the Houston Chronicle that private citizens and companies have every right to express their views and to participate in boycotts. “They do not, however, have a right to use their business activity with the state to make that statement,” wrote Rylander. “The taxpayers of Texas do not want their money used to marginalize and attack a key ally and trading partner of Texas, and they have said so at the ballot box. They, too, have the right to express their views.”

The ACLU filed suit one day after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a news conference announcing its legal challenge of the state’s pro-Israel law.

CAIR Legal Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a contracted Texas public school speech pathologist who refused to sign the anti-BDS pledge claiming doing so violated her First Amendment rights. Reportedly, her contract was not renewed. According to the San Antonio Current, Amawi is a Palestinian-American who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years and boycotts Israeli products to protest “that country’s continued oppression of the Palestinian people.” Her lawsuit seeks to remove the pro-Israel clause from contracts with public schools, which are state government agencies. Amawi sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in his official capacity, and the Pflugerville Independent School District.

Abbott responded: “Texas stands with Israel. Period.”

Texas is one of 18 states to pass an anti-BDS law. This year, the ACLU blocked similar pro-Israel laws in Kansas and Arizona.

In 2017, Breitbart News reported Israel is Texas’ fourth leading trade partner with numerous joint projects in agricultural research and development, science and technology and industrial research. In 2015, Texas exported $498 million of product to Israel and, in 2012, had $118 million in military contracts. Nearly 300 companies in the state do business with Israel. Texas also holds more than $50 million in high-rated State of Israel Bonds.

“Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy,” said Abbott when he signed the anti-BDS law. “Texas is not going to do business with any country that boycotts Israel.”

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Facebook and Twitter.

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