A Muslim speech pathologist has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district in Texas after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel.
A lawsuit on her behalf was filed on Monday in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.
According to The Intercept, Bahia Amawi began working in 2009 with the Pflugerville Independent School District to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community.
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 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.”
Boycotting Israel to stop its occupation is a global political movement modeled on the 1980s boycott aimed at South Africa that helped end that country’s system of racial apartheid.
Amawi told The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”
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When asked if she considered signing the pledge to preserve her ability to work, Amawi told The Intercept: “Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus, become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.”
Amawi’s supervisor promised that she would investigate whether there were any ways around this barrier. But the supervisor ultimately told Amawi that there were no alternatives: Either she would have to sign the oath, or the district would be legally barred from paying her under any type of contract.
The anti-BDS Israel oath was included in Amawi’s contract papers due to an Israel-specific state law enacted on May 2, 2017, by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law two days later by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill unanimously passed the lower House by a vote of 131-0, and then the Senate by a vote of 25-4.
When Abbott signed the bill in a ceremony held at the Austin Jewish Community Center, he proclaimed: “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”
The vast majority of American citizens are now officially barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without incurring some form of sanction or limitation imposed by their state.