[News] A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath — so She Lost Her Job

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 17 16:58:21 EST 2018


theintercept.com 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/12/17/israel-texas-anti-bds-law/>


  A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a
  Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States — so She Lost Her Job

Glenn Greenwald - December 17, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------------------

_A children’s speech pathologist_ who has worked for the last nine years 
with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary 
school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer 
work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath 
vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel 
or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic 
harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5631742-Bahia-Amawi-s-Lawsuit-Against-Texas-Over-Israel.html> was 
filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of 
Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who 
received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, 
has specialized in evaluations for young children with language 
difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived 
in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages 
(English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children 
of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville 
Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide 
assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing 
Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has 
worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school 
district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no 
controversy or problem.

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.”

The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like 
Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty 
oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:

isa-1544881457-tint-1545064635

That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods 
from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli 
companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled 
territory”). 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.”

Whatever one’s own views are, boycotting Israel to stop its occupation 
<https://twitter.com/TravisMannon/status/1074323469268123648> is a 
global political movement modeled on the 1980s boycott aimed at South 
Africa 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/02/bds-movement-lessons-south-africa-boycott-160223072813078.html> 
that helped end that country’s system of racial apartheid. It has become 
so mainstream that two newly elected members of the U.S. Congress 
explicitly support it 
<https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rashida-tlaib-endorses-bds-movement-1006656677>, 
while boycotting Israeli companies in the occupied territories has long 
been advocated in mainstream venues by Jewish Zionist groups such as 
Peace Now 
<https://www.jpost.com/National-News/Peace-Now-launches-boycott-of-settlement-products> and 
the Jewish-American Zionist writer Peter Beinart 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/19/opinion/to-save-israel-boycott-the-settlements.html>.

This required certification about Israel was the only one in the 
contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and 
activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a 
vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any 
required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a 
citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.

In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to 
denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that 
directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of 
particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina 
<https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/27/bathroom-bill-to-cost-north-carolina-376-billion.html> in 
protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would 
be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own 
country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within 
the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the 
world — except Israel.

That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political 
affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with 
the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United 
States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. 
As Amawi put it to 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.”

Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the 
oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household 
decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in 
support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decadeslong occupation of 
the West Bank and Gaza <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kUSihH-M9M>.

Amawi, as the mother of four young children and a professional speech 
pathologist, is not a leader of any political movements: She has simply 
made the consumer choice to support the boycott by avoiding the purchase 
of products from Israeli companies in Israel or the occupied West Bank. 
She also occasionally participates in peaceful activism in defense of 
Palestinian self-determination that includes advocacy of the global 
boycott to end the Israeli occupation.

Watch The Intercept’s three-minute video of Amawi, as she tells her 
story, here:

Video by Kelly West

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.”

As a result, Amawi informed her school district supervisor that she 
could not sign the oath. As her complaint against the school district 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5631742-Bahia-Amawi-s-Lawsuit-Against-Texas-Over-Israel.html> 
explains, she “ask[ed] why her personal political stances [about Israel 
and Palestine] impacted her work as a speech language pathologist.”

In response, 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.

Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking 
child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that 
the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children 
with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their 
conditions and treatment needs.

“I got my master’s in this field and devoted myself to this work because 
I always wanted to do service for children,” Amawi said. “It’s vital 
that early-age assessments of possible speech impairments or 
psychological conditions be administered by those who understand the 
child’s first language.”

In other words, Texas’s Israel loyalty oath requirement victimizes not 
just Amawi, an American who is barred from working in the professional 
field to which she has devoted her adult life, but also the young 
children in need of her expertise and experience that she has spent 
years developing.

_The anti-BDS Israel oath_ was included in Amawi’s contract papers due 
to an Israel-specific state law enacted 
<https://forward.com/fast-forward/370725/texas-becomes-17th-state-to-pass-law-countering-boycotts-of-israel/> 
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 
<https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Being-anti-Israel-is-anti-Texas-says-Gov-Greg-11114838.php>: 
“Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane 
Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told that 
they could 
<https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/recovering-from-harvey-texas-suburb-hit-with-hurricane-israel-1.5459316> only 
receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to 
boycott Israel. 
<https://www.aclu.org/news/texas-city-tells-people-no-hurricane-harvey-aid-unless-they-promise-not-boycott-israel> That 
demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need 
of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and 
Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their 
state government.

The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas state Rep. 
Phil King, said at the time that its application to hurricane relief 
<https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/author-of-texas-anti-bds-bill-calls-aid-incident-misunderstanding-1.5459450> 
was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s 
purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who 
supports a boycott of Israel.

At the time that Texas enacted the law barring contractors from 
supporting a boycott of Israel, it was the 17th state in the country to 
do so. As of now, 26 states have enacted such laws — including blue 
states run by Democrats such as New York, California, and New Jersey — 
while similar bills are pending in another 13 states.

This map compiled by Palestine Legal 
<https://palestinelegal.org/righttoboycott/> shows how pervasive various 
forms of Israel loyalty oath requirements have become in the U.S.; the 
states in red are ones where such laws are already enacted, while the 
states in the darker shade are ones where such bills are pending:

The vast majority of American citizens are therefore now officially 
barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without incurring some form 
of sanction or limitation imposed by their state. And the relatively few 
Americans who are still free to form views on this hotly contested 
political debate without being officially punished are in danger of 
losing that freedom, as more and more states are poised to enact similar 
censorship schemes.

One of the first states to impose such repressive restrictions on free 
expression was New York. In 2016, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an 
executive order directing all agencies 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/06/nyregion/cuomo-new-york-israel-boycott-bds-movement.html> under 
his control to terminate any and all business with companies or 
organizations that support a boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, 
New York State will boycott you,” Cuomo proudly tweeted 
<https://twitter.com/nygovcuomo/status/741352188945928192>, referring to 
a Washington Post op-ed he wrote that touted that threat in its headline.

As The Intercept reported at the time 
<https://theintercept.com/2016/06/06/andrew-cuomo-and-other-democrats-launch-severe-attack-on-free-speech-to-protect-israel/>, 
Cuomo’s order “requires that one of his commissioners compile ‘a list of 
institutions and companies’ that — ‘either directly or through a parent 
or subsidiary’ — support a boycott. That government list is then posted 
publicly, and the burden falls on [the accused boycotters] to prove to 
the state that they do not, in fact, support such a boycott.”

Like the Texas law, Cuomo’s Israel order reads like a parody of the 
McCarthy era:

What made Cuomo’s censorship directive particularly stunning was that, 
just two months prior to issuing this decree, he ordered New York state 
agencies to boycott North Carolina 
<https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/29/472268519/n-y-governor-bans-most-state-travel-to-north-carolina-over-lgbt-law> 
in protest of that state’s anti-LGBT law. Two years earlier, Cuomo 
banned New York state employees 
<https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-bans-non-essential-state-travel-indiana> 
from all nonessential travel to Indiana to boycott that state’s 
enactment of an anti-LGBT law.

So Cuomo mandated that his own state employees boycott two other states 
/within his own country/, a boycott that by design would harm U.S. 
businesses, while /prohibiting/ New York’s private citizens from 
supporting a similar boycott of /a foreign nation/ upon pain of being 
barred from receiving contracts from the state of New York. That such a 
priority scheme is so pervasive — whereby boycotts aimed at U.S. 
businesses are permitted or even encouraged, but boycotts aimed at 
Israeli businesses are outlawed — speaks volumes about the state of U.S. 
politics and free expression, none of it good.

Following Cuomo, Texas’s GOP-dominated state legislature, and numerous 
other state governments controlled by both parties, the U.S. Congress, 
prodded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 
<https://www.aipac.org/learn/legislative-agenda/agenda-display?agendaid={B499D12C-C5ED-4CA6-93CF-61266D842328}>, 
began planning its own national bills to use the force of law to punish 
Americans for the crime of supporting a boycott of Israel. In July of 
last year, a group of 43 senators — 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats 
— supported a law, called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), 
introduced by Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, that would 
/criminalize /participation in any international boycott of Israel 
<https://theintercept.com/2017/07/19/u-s-lawmakers-seek-to-criminally-outlaw-support-for-boycott-campaign-against-israel/>.

After the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement vehemently 
condemning 
<https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-letter-senate-opposing-israel-anti-boycott-act> Cardin’s 
bill as an attack on core free speech rights, one which “would punish 
individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs,” numerous 
senators announced that they were re-considering their support 
<https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/congress-democrats-rethink-anti-bds-bill-in-wake-of-warning-1.5433561>.

But now, as The Intercept reported last week 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/12/04/israel-anti-boycott-act-lame-duck/>, 
a modified version of the bill is back and pending in the lame-duck 
session: “Cardin is making a behind-the-scenes push to slip an 
anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during 
the lame-duck session.”

The ACLU has also condemned this latest bill because “its intent and the 
intent of the underlying state laws it purports to uphold are contrary 
to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment guarantee of freedoms of 
speech and association.” As the ACLU warned in a recent action advisory 
<https://action.aclu.org/send-message/protect-right-political-expression?ms_aff=NAT&initms_aff=NAT&ms=181210_freespeech_boycottban_blog&initms=181210_freespeech_boycottban_blog&ms_chan=web&initms_chan=web&af=##sb_query_string_encrypted##>:

While that “new version clarifies that people cannot face jail time for 
participating in a boycott,” the ACLU insists that “it still leaves the 
door open for criminal financial penalties” for anyone found to be 
participating in or even advocating for a boycott of Israel.

_More dangerous attacks_ on free expression are difficult to imagine. 
Nobody who claims to be a defender of free speech or free expression — 
on the right, the left, or anything in between — can possibly justify 
silence in the face of such a coordinated and pure assault on these most 
basic rights of free speech and association.

One common misconception is that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free 
speech only bars the state from imprisoning or otherwise punishing 
people for speaking, but does not bar the state from conditioning the 
receipt of discretionary benefits (such as state benefits or jobs) on 
refraining from expressing particular opinions. Aside from the fact 
that, with some rare and narrow exceptions, courts have repeatedly held 
that the government is constitutionally barred 
<https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2618&context=caselrev> 
under the First Amendment from conditioning government benefits 
on speech requirements 
<https://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1656&context=clr> — 
such as, say, enacting a bill that states that only liberals, or only 
conservatives, shall be eligible for unemployment benefits — the 
unconstitutional nature of Texas’s actions toward Bahia Amawi should be 
self-evident.

Imagine if, instead of being forced by the state to vow never to boycott 
Israel as a condition for continuing to work as a speech pathologist, 
Amawi was instead forced to pledge that she would never advocate for 
LGBT equality or engage in activism in support of or opposition to gun 
rights or abortion restrictions (by joining the National Rifle 
Association or Planned Parenthood), or never subscribe to Vox or the 
Daily Caller, or never participate in a boycott of Iran, North Korea, 
Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia due to vehement disagreement with those 
governments’ policies.

The tyrannical free speech denial would be self-evident and, in many of 
those comparable cases, the trans-ideological uproar would be 
instantaneous. As Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle 
East Peace, warned 
<https://medium.com/@LFriedman_FMEP/u-s-politicians-are-backing-a-free-speech-exception-for-israel-creating-a-template-for-broader-ebe406fdf3b7>: 
“[T]his template could be re-purposed to bar contracts with individuals 
or groups affiliated with or supportive of any political cause or 
organization — from the political Left or Right — that the majority in a 
legislature or the occupant of a governor’s office deemed undesirable.”

Recall that in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to block zoning 
permits allowing Chick-fil-A to expand, due to his personal disagreement 
with the anti-LGBT activism of that company’s top executive. As I wrote 
at the time in condemning the unconstitutional nature 
<https://www.salon.com/2012/07/26/rahm_emanuels_free_speech_attack/> of 
the mayor’s actions: “If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then 
you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in 
Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who 
/support/**same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who 
support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or 
which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that 
such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents.”

Those official efforts in Chicago (followed by mayors of other liberal 
cities) to punish Chick-fil-A due to its executive’s negative views on 
LGBT equality were widely condemned even by liberal commentators, who 
were horrified that mayors would abuse their power to condition zoning 
rights based on a private citizen’s political viewpoints on a 
controversial issue. Obviously, if a company discriminated against LGBT 
employees in violation of the law, it would be legitimate to act against 
them, but as Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum correctly noted 
<https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/07/rahm-emanuel-needs-back-chick-fil/>, 
this was a case of pure censorship: “There’s really no excuse for 
Emanuel’s and [Boston Mayor Thomas] Menino’s actions. … You don’t hand 
out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political 
views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.”

The ACLU of Illinois also denounced the effort by Chicago against 
Chick-fil-A 
<https://www.aclu-il.org/en/press-releases/statement-chick-fil-matter> 
as “wrong and dangerous,” adding: “We oppose using the power and 
authority of government to retaliate against those who express messages 
that are controversial or averse to the views of current office 
holders.” That, by definition, is the only position that a genuine free 
speech defender can hold — regardless of agreement or disagreement with 
the specific political viewpoint being punished.

Last week, the ACLU’s Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane explained 
why 
<https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/rights-protesters/congress-trying-use-spending-bill-criminalize-boycotts-israel-and> 
even the modified, watered-down, fully bipartisan version of the Israel 
oath bill pending in the U.S. Congress, and especially the already 
enacted bills in 26 states of the kind that just resulted in Amawi’s 
termination, are a direct violation of the most fundamental free speech 
rights:

    This is a full-scale attack on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms.
    Political boycotts, including boycotts of foreign countries, have
    played a pivotal role in this nation’s history — from the boycotts
    of British goods during the American Revolution to the Montgomery
    Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa.
    And in /NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware/, the Supreme Court made clear
    <https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/458/886.html> that the
    First Amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts.

The lawsuit which Amawi filed similarly explains that “economic boycotts 
for the purposes of bringing about political change are entrenched in 
American history, beginning with colonial boycotts on British tea. 
Later, the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on boycotts to combat 
racism and spur societal change. The Supreme Court has recognized [in 
Claiborne] that non-violent boycotts intended to advance civil rights 
constitute ‘form[s] of speech or conduct that [are] ordinarily entitled 
to protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.'”

_Who can justify_ that — as a condition for working with speech-impaired 
and developmentally disabled children — Amawi is forced by the state to 
violate her conscience and renounce her political beliefs by buying 
products from a country that she believes (in accordance with the U.N 
<https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm>.) is illegally and 
brutally occupying land that does not belong to it? Whether or not you 
agree with her political view about Israel and Palestine, every American 
with an even minimal belief in the value of free speech should be 
vocally denouncing the attack on Amawi’s free speech rights and other 
Americans who are being similarly oppressed by these Israel-protecting 
censorship laws in the U.S.

As these Israel oath laws have proliferated, some commentators from 
across the ideological spectrum have noted what a profound threat to 
free speech they pose. The Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Friedman, 
for instance, explained 
<https://medium.com/@LFriedman_FMEP/u-s-politicians-are-backing-a-free-speech-exception-for-israel-creating-a-template-for-broader-ebe406fdf3b7> 
that “it requires little imagination to see how criminalizing Americans’ 
participation in political boycotts of Israel could pave the way for 
further infringements to Americans’ right to support or join 
internationally-backed protests on other issues.” She correctly 
described such laws as “a free speech exception for Israel.”

The libertarian lawyer Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato 
Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, similarly warned 
<https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/senates-israel-anti-boycott-act-has-good-intentions-bad-results>: 
“It is not a proper function of law to force Americans into carrying on 
foreign commerce they personally find politically objectionable, whether 
their reasons for reluctance be good, bad, or arbitrary.”

-- 
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