Published: Sun, October 22, 2017
Global | By Shelia Dennis

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

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

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 exclusively for their agreed-upon project. Applicants must agree to use distributed funds exclusively for their agreed upon project, which could including rebuilding a home or business.

A civil rights group on Friday called unconstitutional a Houston suburb's hurricane fix grant program that says residents can not boycott Israel as a condition of receiving any money. The application is mainly comprised of unremarkable legalities, with one notable exception: a clause stating that the applicant will not take part in a boycott of Israel for the duration of the grant.

As reported by ABC 13, the clause, in section 11 of the grant, caused some concern with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"The First Amendment protects Americans' right to boycott, and the government can not 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.

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Texas and several other states, though, already have laws on the books that prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.

The ACLU noted that the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected free speech for individuals, and governments can't force them to sign certifications promising not to do it in order to receive public benefits or contracts.

Hauss said the main issue in this case is the state law and the ACLU's belief that the law is "fundamentally unconstitutional". "Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally". Just this month, the ACLU sued in Kansas over a law requiring educators not to boycott Israel. The law was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on May 2 and went into effect on September 1. She refused to sign a form to certify she isn't boycotting Israel because of a church-led boycott of that country.

"This type of anti-BDS legislation is something we've been tracking for some time and we are aware of", Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said. Passed and signed into law in May, it was hailed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

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In March, a similar anti-BDS bill was introduced in the US Congress that would make it a felony to support boycotts of various companies doing business with Israel, according to the ACLU.

"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", House Bill 89 states. "That sort of chill is exactly what the first amendment is meant to protect from happening".

Olson said it's unclear if the new law applies to the city's grant program, funded by more than $1 million in private donations for victims.

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