The city of Dickinson, Texas, will no longer require private citizens affected by Hurricane Harvey to sign a pledge guaranteeing they do not and will not boycott Israel as a condition to receiving help.
After a closed meeting with city attorney David Olson, the city council passed a motion to remove a clause that conditions disaster relief aid on an applicant’s political views.
While a clear victory for residents of Dickinson — if perhaps bittersweet because the storm-struck are simply back to where the application process should have begun — the amendment only applies to private homeowners.
“The council voted to strike the language related to the pledge not to boycott Israel for residential applicants for the grants,” city management assistant Bryan Milward told Mondoweiss. However, Milward confirmed, “the language is still in for businesses.”
City businesses damaged by the storm are still prohibited from engaging in any boycott of Israel if they are to receive relief funding. According to the city police department, the hurricane seriously damaged 88 businesses, ten of which are closing down indefinitely.
Councilman Walter Wilson, who brought the issue up for a vote after reconvening, noted that the move “really doesn’t change the application itself…we’ll remove that clause when we’re entering into that agreement with an individual homeowner.”
But when it comes to businesses– boycotting Israel is verboten.
“Whenever [the city] is dealing with companies,” Wilson said, which he noted are more broadly defined, “we will continue to maintain [the no-Israel-boycott pledge] until we receive guidance from a higher court or a state agency issuing an opinion.”
So while private residents are seemingly spared for now, it remains to be seen how the anti-boycott stipulation will affect the daily operations of the 20,000 or so residents who rely on businesses in the city in some way — either as consumers or owners.
For example, 20% of businesses in the city are in the construction field, according to publicly available data. Should the city deny any number of these companies relief grants, it stands to reason that this will negatively affect the economy and have a domino effect on rebuilding efforts.
Dickinson City Attorney David Olson has maintained from the beginning that the clause prohibiting the boycott of Israel, present or future, was included in the agreement to ensure compliance with recently implemented Texas state law.
In May, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation 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. It also prohibits all state agencies from contracting with or investing in those companies.
Dickinson’s turnaround on individual boycotters is likely a result of widespread, negative media coverage and a steady stream of rebuke from legal and civil liberties organizations across the country. But the infusion of pro-Israel politics into state legislation doesn’t appear to be slowing.
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights said in a statement: “We welcome the news that the City of Dickinson has decided to remove a requirement to pledge not to boycott Israel to receive hurricane relief aid. Political views on Israel, or on anything for that matter, should never be used by governments to deny equal treatment to American citizens. Discriminatory policies denying equality to Palestinians are precisely what those of us calling for the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) are aiming to end.
“Unfortunately, such discriminatory requirements remain in state contracts across the country, including in Texas,” added Munayyer, “due to a pernicious nationwide effort to use the law as an instrument to stifle non-violent dissent against Israeli policies.”
Twenty-one states already have anti-BDS legislation on the books. Less than a week after the news about Dickinson broke, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland signed an executive order nearly identical to the offending Texas law.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which does not take a stance on BDS itself, has called the boycott requirement unconstitutional and is currently defending a teacher against similar legislation in Kansas.
ACLU staff attorney Brian Hauss reacted to the recent developments in a statement provided to Mondoweiss:
“Numerous states throughout the country have passed anti-boycott laws similar to the one in Texas. The laws in places like Texas and Arizona are particularly broad because they apply to local governments in addition to state agencies. As recent events in Dickinson and elsewhere have shown, these laws are being applied to condition access to important government funds, ranging from disaster relief to neighborhood maintenance projects, on an unconstitutional certification about protected boycott activity. Any law that denies government contracts or other benefits to people participating in protected boycott activity violates the First Amendment.”