Pro-Palestinian speech is being increasingly clamped down in the US contrary to the sacred nature of free speech on other issues.
Last week Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist residing in Texas, challenged the constitutionality of her employment contract with Pflugerville Independent School District in a lawsuit in federal court. Amawi, a Palestinian-American, had been contracting with the school district for the last nine years to provide assessments and support for the growing Arabic-speaking community.
This year, however, the school district added an addendum to the contract, stating that, ”Ms. Amawi affirms that she does not currently boycott Israel during the term of the contract.” Amawi refused to sign the addendum, leading to the termination of her contractual relationship with the school district.
The contractual addendum stems from a 2017 law passed in Texas, barring the State of Texas from entering into government contracts with companies which boycott Israel. In other words, any entity participating in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement would be barred from contracting with the government of Texas.
BDS is a non-violent grassroots, and global movement modelled after the boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The core demands of BDS are that Israel ends the occupation, dismantle the wall, recognise equal rights of Arab citizens of Israel, and honour the Palestinian refugees right to return.
The thirteen-year-old movement, in true David and Goliath fashion, has created a momentum of pressure on private companies, institutions and governments to uphold the sanctity of Palestinian life and dignity.
Using language similar to that of Texas, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is leading an effort to introduce an anti-BDS measure on a federal scale by sneaking a “bill criminalizing politically motivated boycotts of Israel” into an omnibus spending bill that must pass to avoid a government shutdown.
Veteran Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein urged Congress not to include anti-BDS measures in the spending bill, stating that though they do not support the BDS movement, they must uphold the “constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government.”
Though the Palestinian exception to the First Amendment is not new, this latest erosion of political speech and association is surprising in its unabashed transparency to undermine the US Constitution.
Amawi, a United States citizen and taxpayer has no control over the dispersal of her taxes, or that in 2016 her government pledged $38 billion to the state of Israel throughout the next decade. This despite Israel’s documented history of human rights and humanitarian law abuses.
At the very least, Amawi should be free to determine her political advocacy and any direct action stemming from her political beliefs as a Palestinian American. Indeed, no one exercising their rights to freedom of speech and association should face governmental sanction or criminalisation for doing so.
A recent poll shows that support for Israel amongst US liberals, millennials, and women is decreasing. This shift is evident in Congress as well. For example, two newly elected Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have publicly endorsed the BDS movement and Tlaib and incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refused the AIPAC-affiliated trip to Israel.
Even as support for Israel wanes in the American public, both federal and state governments seek to mandate a pro-Israel loyalty oath. Subverting the constitution to promote allegiance to a foreign country exposes just how far the United States’ toxic relationship with Israel has become.
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