In 2017, Texas legislators passed a law prohibiting the state from hiring companies and contractors that boycott Israel, in a move meant as a clear rebuke to the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Now, a children’s speech pathologist who lost her job earlier this year after she refused to sign a contract that included the new anti-BDS language is suing the school district, arguing that her constitutional right to freedom of speech has been violated.
Bahia Amawi had been working for the Pflugerville Independent School District since 2009, where she primarily worked with young Arabic-speaking students. According to the Intercept, this is what happened when she received her new contract this year, in the wake of the new Texas law:
But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.
She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
As the Intercept noted, “The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as ‘intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.’”
Amawi, who was born in Austria to a Palestinian family and is now a U.S. citizen, doesn’t consider herself an activist, though she and her family boycott goods and products made by companies in Israel, and she has participated in the past in pro-Palestine demonstrations. “I’m a busy mom with four kids,” she told the Intercept. She described her decision to not sign her new contract as an “easy” one.
Texas passed the anti-BDS law in 2017, becoming, at the time, the 17th state to pass anti-boycott legislation. According to the Intercept, nine more states have since joined them, and 13 additional states are considering similar bills. In Texas, the law’s implementation has been a confusing mess. (Remember when Hurricane Harvey victims were told they would only receive state aid if they promised to not boycott Israel?)
Amawi is not the first educator to sue over anti-BDS laws. In 2017, a Wichita-based educator, with the help of the ACLU, sued the state of Kansas over a similar law. “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, you know, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protect our constitutional rights,” Amawi said to the Intercept.
I eagerly await the New York Times opinion columnists’ upcoming strong condemnation of this blatant violation of Amawi’s rights.