Contractors and residents in Dickinson, Texas, looking for government funding to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey must meet an unusual requirement: They’re not allowed to boycott Israel.
This provision isn’t entirely the call of the 20,000-resident city in Galveston County, as it stems from a bill signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, which makes it illegal for the state to contract or invest in businesses that boycott Israel or Israeli-occupied Palestinian land. A clause in the application for relief money on Dickinson’s website notes that 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.”
“We are currently seeking clarification on the language from the State, but as it reads currently, we are compelled to follow the Law,” said Dickinson mayor Julie Masters in an email to VICE News. “Please don’t crucify the messenger, the City of Dickinson is only following State law.”
Over the last decade, as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has stalled out, Palestinian activists and their allies abroad have pushed a campaign of “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) to pressure Israel to abandon its occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza. In response, pro-Israel politicians and advocates have pushed a series of laws — like the one in Texas — designed to make it difficult to participate in BDS.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already come out strongly against the Texas provision, and ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in a statement that “the First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott.
“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,” Segura added. Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Texas isn’t the only state to create laws curtailing the right to boycott Israel. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Kansas over a similar rule, on behalf of a Mennonite teacher who was denied payment over her commitment to her church’s participation in the BDS movement.
And at the federal level, the ACLU in August pushed a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to withdraw support for legislation that would make supporting BDS a felony. Senate Minority Leader and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, a co-sponsor of the bill, said as recently as August that he still stands behind it.