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Texas town says it banned aid to BDS backers due to ‘confusion’ over law

State representative says rule only applies to public money, but Harvey relief funds were private; admits legislation needs to be clarified

Rescue workers and volunteers help residents make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Rescue workers and volunteers help residents make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water following Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A northern Texas state representative said that a town that asked its residents to certify that they do not participate in boycotting Israel in order to receive hurricane aid did so due to “confusion” over a new state law.

Republican State Rep. Phil King authored state legislation against BDS — or boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel — earlier this year. The legislation went into effect last month.

“It’s not uncommon to have some confusion when a new law goes into effect. This bill in no way applies to the type of situation that happened in Dickinson,” King, who has been a state legislator since 1999, told the Israeli daily Haaretz in an interview on Saturday night.

The website for the town of Dickinson is accepting applications for individuals and businesses who need assistance following Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the area in August. According to the application, those who sign must verify that the applicant “(1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

Dickinson City Management assistant Bryan Milward attributed the clause to a state law, signed in May, that requires all state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel. Milward emphasized that the city will not be verifying compliance with the clause and said he doesn’t expect any applications to be rejected because of it.

Dickinson, a city of about 19,000 outside Houston, was hit especially hard by Harvey. More than three-quarters of its homes were damaged by the hurricane, and 830 were destroyed, according to Milward.

King told Haaretz that the situation in Dickinson does not apply to the law, because “they had private contributions from citizens to a relief fund in the city, and the city has set up a grant program to give those funds to help in disaster cleanup and restoration. Those are not taxpayer dollars, so the law by no means applies to these relief efforts.”

King told the newspaper that the state “needs to take steps to clarify things, so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”

King said of the legislation: “This is what the bill is about. This is America. If you’re an individual or a company and you want to boycott Israel, that’s your right to do so. We just won’t put our taxpayer money into it.”

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