In the aftermath of one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the Texas coast in years, one city is requiring all applicants for relief money to provide in writing a guarantee they do not and will not support the boycott of Israel.
Located thirty miles southeast of Houston, the city of Dickinson is just seven miles from the Galveston Bay which connects to the Gulf of Mexico. The city and surrounding area have been some of the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.
“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment” said Andre Segura, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. Segura called the stipulation “reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”
Galveston County — where Dickinson is located — has already received $44.7 million in federal FEMA aid, the second highest among eligible counties in Texas. The FEMA Disaster Recovery Center which serves all of Galveston County is located in Dickinson.
Dickinson has just begun accepting applications from individuals and businesses for hurricane relief grants to be paid out from the Dickinson Harvey Relief Fund. The fund appears to consist of a single, but large, $1 million donation from Bill and Amy Gurley, according to the city’s website.
But applicants, still reeling from the devastation of lost life and property, have found they are now subject to a political litmus test (and a particularly subjective one at that) in order to receive the donated funds.
Titled “Verification not to Boycott Israel,” section 11 of the relief grant application stipulates: “By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”
The language apparently stems from a bill signed into law by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May, known as the Anti-BDS bill. The law, which became effective on September 1, 2017, requires the state to create a blacklist of private companies that boycott Israel. The law also prohibits all state agencies from contracting with or investing in those companies.
Palestine Legal, in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Council on American Islamic Relations of Texas and other legal advocacy groups, issued a legal rebuke at the passage of the Texas Anti-BDS bill. It noted that the law violates First Amendment protections, is unconstitutional and that a blacklist “will have a chilling effect on protected speech.”
As of September, a total of 21 states have enacted similar legislation, according to Palestine Legal.
Julie Masters, the mayor of Dickinson, said the city is required to include this language in order to comply with the above mentioned legislation. Masters referred to the following statement, issued by Dickinson City Attorney David Olson, to explain the action:
“The Texas Legislature adopted a new statute, which became effective on September 1, 2017, that requires that all city contracts for goods or services contain “a written verification from the company that it: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract”
“Please don’t crucify the messenger, the City of Dickinson is only following State law” Masters told Mondoweiss when reached for comment.
The city is hiding behind or at the very least being guided by state law in allocating funds, despite the fact that the funds were acquired through a private donation.
Further, the grant is meant for both Dickinson homeowners and business owners, yet it remains unclear how the state law will affect both.
Since Hurricane Harvey hit, the author of the Texas anti-boycott bill, State Senator Brandon Creighton, has made much to-do about traveling around the state and meeting constituents with supplies. What does he think about the law being applied to disaster relief funds?
“I am proud of the legislation we passed that was supported by Lieutenant Governor Patrick and signed by Governor Abbott that prohibits Texas from doing business with any company that boycotts or discriminates against Israel,” Creighton told Mondoweiss in a statement. “I filed this to show the rest of the country and the world that Israel is a key ally who has earned the support of the Lone Star State.”
Rabbi Joseph Berman, Government Affairs Manager at Jewish Voice for Peace called the move “outrageous” and “unconstitutional.”
“This is disaster relief in Trump’s America,” Berman told Mondoweiss.
On September 14, after surveying and being briefed on the damage, Texas Governor Abbot assured the Washington Post that “the risk to lives has now been reduced, if not completely eliminated.”
Surely Abbot’s assurances ring hollow should Dickinson residents be denied aid based on their political views.