Texas speech pathologist files federal lawsuit over anti-BDS law
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Texas speech pathologist files federal lawsuit over anti-BDS law

Bahia Amawi says Austin school district violated her First Amendment rights when it withdrew job contract over her refusal to sign pro-Israel pledge

Texas speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who filed a federal lawsuit after her school district refused to renew her contract unless she signed a pro-Israel oath. (screen capture: The Intercept)
Texas speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who filed a federal lawsuit after her school district refused to renew her contract unless she signed a pro-Israel oath. (screen capture: The Intercept)

A speech pathologist, who reportedly lost her job at an Austin-area school district for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel, is suing the state of Texas in a bid to repeal a law targeting the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

According to a Monday report in The Intercept, Bahia Amawi filed the First Amendment suit in a Texas federal court, in a bid to have the state law struck down and the anti-BDS pledge removed from the school district’s employment contracts.

Amawi worked with the local Arabic-speaking community at the Pflugerville Independent School District since 2009, on a contract basis. She told the news site that the district renewed her contract each year without incident, but when she received the documents for the 2018-19 school year in August, Amawi said it included a new clause requiring that she “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and 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 Israel, or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

Amawi, who is of Palestinian descent, told The Intercept that she could not sign the new contract “in good conscience.”

Demonstrators protesting against Israel in New York City, June 2016. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust… but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully,” she said.

As a result, the Pflugerville school district refused to renew her contract. Amawi called it “baffling” that a US law would “protect another country’s economy” over the constitutional free speech rights of US citizens.

Texas is one of dozens of US states that have enacted legislation forbidding the state from contracting with anyone who supports a boycott of Israel. Texas adopted its anti-BDS law in 2017, with Governor Greg Abbott saying at the signing ceremony that “any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

Later that year, the law came under heavy criticism, after residents in a north Texas town said they were asked to certify that they do not support Israel boycotts in order to receive federal assistance after Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing his state’s anti-BDS bill at a Jewish community center in Austin, May 2, 2017. (Office of the Texas Governor)

Republican State Rep. Phil King, who authored the state legislation, later said that the stipulation for the town of Dickinson was due to “confusion,” and was a “misunderstanding.”

In recent years, some 26 US states have passed anti-BDS legislation that prohibits the state from working with entities that boycott Israel, though none have passed measures making participating in a boycott of Israel illegal.

The states’ anti-BDS laws have been roundly criticized by free-speech and pro-Palestinian activists, however Amawi’s suit may be the first time a US court will be asked to rule on the legislation’s constitutionality.

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