Feb 2, 2022 - News

Texas law barring Israel boycotts on the ropes, again

An Israeli flag flies by a roadside.
An Israeli flag by the Israeli settlement of Shlomtzion in the occupied West Bank in January 2020. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

A state law barring public contractors from boycotting Israel — previously challenged by a Pflugerville school speech pathologist — appears unenforceable.

Driving the news: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing the latest blow to state efforts to stamp out the boycott movement, delivered by a federal judge late last week.

  • U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that Texas can't block an engineering firm from boycotting Israel as part of its contract with the City of Houston.

The big picture: The case pits free speech against a movement by legislatures in Texas and other states to thwart Israel boycotts.

  • Texas is one of more than two dozen states with laws aimed at limiting participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which, according to its founders, aims to "end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians."

The backstory: In 2019, an Austin federal judge blocked an earlier version of the law, saying it violated First Amendment rights.

  • A plaintiff in that case, Bahia Amawi, who speaks English and Arabic, had helped assess Arabic-speaking students for the Pflugerville school district.
  • But in September 2018, as part of her annual contract renewal, the district asked her to sign an addendum, mandated by a 2017 state law, that she did not and would not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.
  • She balked and lost her job.

The other side: When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, he called Israel "an important ally," adding "anti-Israel policies are anti-Texan policies."

Between the lines: After the 2019 ruling, state lawmakers rewrote the law so that it would pertain only to businesses with 10 or more full-time employees and only for contracts worth $100,000 or more.

  • In the latest challenge, Houston-based A&R Engineering and Testing Inc. sued after the City of Houston required the firm to swear it wouldn't boycott Israel during the length of its contract.
  • Hanen stopped short of blocking the state law, but he said the free speech rights of the firm would be violated if the contract included the clause.

What's next: Paxton will hope for victory at the conservative Fifth Circuit.

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