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Texas city drops Israel boycott ban for individuals but says businesses must still reject BDS to get hurricane aid

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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.”

Cartoon featuring Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Dickinson, TX mayor Julie Masters (Image: Carlos Latuff)

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.”

Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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13 Responses

  1. Boomer on October 27, 2017, 9:22 am

    Thanks for this update. It is a step in the right direction, but seems mainly a strategic retreat from an untenable position. The new policy may be more defensible politically, but still isn’t legal or moral. The episode again demonstrates the power of the Israel lobby in much of the US, not just in DC, NYC and LA. And it again demonstrates how little attention is given in the US MSM to the plight of the Palestinians (and US complicity), which is the real reason for the BDS movement. Thus, in the MSM, a viewer is often left to infer that the real problem is irrational hatred of Israel and Jews.

  2. James Canning on October 27, 2017, 12:56 pm

    More suppression of free speech in the US, by the ISRAEL LOBBY. Revolting, and dangerous.

    • Jerry Hirsch on October 27, 2017, 1:11 pm

      James, it appears that Mondoweiss itself is suppressing free speech on Facebook by deleting comments. This one for example.

      Noam Chomsky on BDS

      “The opening call of the BDS movement, by a group of Palestinian intellectuals in 2005, demanded that Israel fully comply with international law by “(1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

      This call received considerable attention, and deservedly so. But if we’re concerned about the fate of the victims, BD and other tactics have to be carefully thought through and evaluated in terms of their likely consequences. The pursuit of (1) in the above list makes good sense: it has a clear objective and is readily understood by its target audience in the West, which is why the many initiatives guided by (1) have been quite successful—not only in “punishing” Israel, but also in stimulating other forms of opposition to the occupation and US support for it.

      However, this is not the case for (3). While there is near-universal international support for (1), there is virtually no meaningful support for (3) beyond the BDS movement itself. Nor is (3) dictated by international law. The text of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 is conditional, and in any event it is a recommendation, without the legal force of the Security Council resolutions that Israel regularly violates. Insistence on (3) is a virtual guarantee of failure.”

      • RoHa on October 28, 2017, 6:33 am

        I’m shocked that MW has anything to do with Facebook.

  3. ignasi orobitg gene on October 27, 2017, 3:20 pm

    That’s how they behave the colonies towards the metropolis.

  4. DaBakr on October 27, 2017, 4:52 pm

    There never was a ‘requirement’ for individuals that they had to agree to not bds in order to obtain aid. It was an oversite. This was clearly stated at both local and state levels. But MW and EI never miss a chance to exploit a molehill while missing the mountain.

  5. Citizen on October 27, 2017, 8:25 pm

    Trump taps Jewish community anti-BDS advocate as US civil rights chief at Education Department

    • annie on October 27, 2017, 8:58 pm

      “The leading civil and human rights challenge facing North American Jewry is the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses,” the Brandeis Center states in the vision statement on its website. “This social problem requires an immediate, effective and coordinated legal response.”

      help!!! the civil and human rights of North American Jewy is in dire straits!

      maybe every kid who wants a pell grant or student loan should be required to take a loyalty pledge to israel. and everyone seeking a job in teaching too. maybe they should plaster on applications and class registrations.

  6. Jackdaw on October 28, 2017, 4:29 am

    The town misconstrued the law.

    Big deal.

    • John O on October 28, 2017, 9:08 am

      If all they did was misinterpret the law, why was it necessary to remove a clause?

    • Mooser on October 28, 2017, 12:59 pm

      “The town misconstrued the law.”

      “Misconstrued the law” as requiring fealty to Israel’s intransigence before receiving US hurricane recovery aid?
      This legal ‘misconstrual’ was, no doubt, prompted by “the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses” in the US.

  7. Maghlawatan on October 29, 2017, 6:24 am

    This is Tammany hall esque. It is bad PR for Zionism. Imagine if Jews were denied flood relief unless they signed a doc swearing loyalty to Bolivia.

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