Houston-Area Residents Told To Certify That They Do Not Support Boycotting Israel As Pre-Condition For Hurricane Relief

Texasisrael1We recently discussed the free speech and associational implications of a Kansas teacher barred from a job due to her church’s support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Now there is a story out of Dickinson, Texas where residents were told that they had to guarantee that they do not support boycotts of Israel as a pre-condition of hurricane relief.  Again, this is nothing to do with the merits of the BDS controversy or Israel.  The question is the constitutionality of the federal or state government demanding such commitments from citizens to secure employment or relief.

 

Dickinson is 30 miles southeast of Houston and was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. Some 7,000 homes and 88 businesses, according to local police reports, have been heavily damaged.  Many residents resent being asked to make a commitment on a political question as a condition to their receiving badly needed aid.  On the three-page application for grant money, residents found this condition:

A snapshot of the relevant boycott section of the application is shown.

Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters admits that people are irate and now says that, when the city’s attorney proposed adding the clause, she thought, “God, this kind of feels like it’s infringing on free speech.”  However, she says that she understood that they did not have a choice but to add the clause.  This appears due to the Texas state law passed earlier this year that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.  It seems obvious that a competent lawyer could adopt an interpretation that would exclude the clause entirely or at least with regard to hurricane relief.  The problem is due to the decision to fashion relief recipients as “independent contractors.”

I can understand the state’s interest in how state supplies are purchased in the fulfillment of state contracts.  My preference would be to reaffirm that any state supplies or sub-contracts go to the lowest bidders with no discrimination as to potential suppliers on any other basis than price and performance. Period.  If someone holds religious or philosophical opposition to any country or group, the public should not have to subsidize such views in paying a high cost for supplies or services.  Likewise, the laws should exclude service contractors like teachers as well as recipients for aid.  They should make clear that the laws are not meant to exclude people based on their personal religious or political views in their private lives.  Instead, some of these laws or clauses are written in the most sweeping language.

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging these state laws generally as an infringement on First Amendment rights.  There are a dozen states with such laws and Congress is now considering a law that would make it a felony for Americans to boycott Israel.  Such laws cut deeply into free speech protections.  While Texas Gov. Grey Abbott has said that “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” the issue is whether he and the state can demand that citizens adopt their policy views or face disenfranchisement from employment, contracts, and aid.  Changing “Don’t Mess With Texas” to “Don’t Mess With Israel” is unlikely to change many minds and is more likely to push many toward the BDS movement.

As should not surprise anyone given my past stated views of free speech, I oppose such laws as current drafted.  For those of us concerned over these laws, it is not about being anti-Israel but pro-free speech.  We would oppose similar efforts to punish those doing business with Israel or other such laws. Likewise, a state could bar teachers who belong to organizations or churches that support a boycott of the NFL as demanded by President Trump.

As I noted earlier, this controversy raises obvious comparisons to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Claiborne Hardware Co.458 U.S. 886 (1982), where the Supreme Court unanimously ruled (8-0 without the participation of Thurgood Marshall, who would undoubtedly have voted with the majority) for the NAACP against states cracking down on boycotts of white business.  The Court ruled that the authority over economic regulations does not curtail political speech in such cases:

Speech itself also was used to further the aims of the boycott. Nonparticipants repeatedly were urged to join the common cause, both through public address and through personal solicitation. These elements of the boycott involve speech in its most direct form. In addition, names of boycott violators were read aloud at meetings at the First Baptist Church and published in a local black newspaper. Petitioners admittedly sought to persuade others to join the boycott through social pressure and the “threat” of social ostracism. Speech does not lose its protected character, however, simply because it may embarrass others or coerce them into action.

Advocates of such laws are following a dangerous path in seeking to punish those with opposing views.  Those in a majority today can find themselves in a minority tomorrow.  There are many good-faith reasons to oppose the BDS movement as well as reasons to support it.  I do not support the BDS movement but I respect people who hold opposing views.  We do not need the government to interject itself and state power into the debate.  Punishing those who support the BDS movement will only fuel the anti-Israeli sentiments and undermine the credibility of arguments being made on the merits against such boycotts.

What do you think?

69 thoughts on “Houston-Area Residents Told To Certify That They Do Not Support Boycotting Israel As Pre-Condition For Hurricane Relief

  1. I oppose the idea of any government mandating these types of statements, no matter what the protected class. There should be no rule from a government that forces citizens or their businesses to adhere to certain codes of conduct that are deemed politically correct.

    Adherence to this law is as serious an affront as requiring cake decorators to make a cake specifically recognizing an interaction that they find offensive, under penalty of a group of vandals coming to shame or destroy their business for doing the opposite. Government should not be engaged in creating friction in the transactions between consenting individuals.

  2. While Texas Gov. Grey Abbott has said that “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” the issue is whether he and the state can demand that citizens adopt their policy views or face disenfranchisement from employment, contracts, and aid.

    These disgraceful policies are anti-American and anti-human.

    When a US politician places the interests of a foreign nation before the interests (eg political speech) of American citizens they are committing treason.

    When the powerful hijack the law for nefarious purposes and use it to further muzzle the voice of an already vulnerable and politically disenfranchised people (ie Palestinians) it exposes them as the fractions of human beings they have devolved to become.

  3. If people support BDS they are hostile to our most cherished and most important ally and deserve what they get, no assistance regardless of the consequences.

  4. What is wrong with American Nationalism, and antiglobalism? I am not the world. I am not the children. Hurricane relief in Texas is about Texas. Is the congress ‘Really’ considering making a boycott of a foreign country, a felony? Sounds unreal. Sounds like *insane*pandering to me. Sounds like the *political class* would be raping the non-political class. The armed forces defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies both foreign and domestic. Foreign entanglements are stupid, especially went they get this extreme. Yes, Bush family. I will take a triple dose of nativism to prevent instantiy like this. No dual citizenship should be allowed in the United States. Seems like there is no left or right wing, just puppets of other nationalities or want to be nationalities.

  5. For those who thinking nothing bad is going on so why should people even have a BDS movement:

    “Palestine,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the greatest moral issue of our time.”
    “Why is this truth suppressed, day after day, month after month, year after year?”

    http://johnpilger.com/articles/palestine-is-still-the-issue

    It’s really interesting that there is incredible resistance to the treatment of Palestinians by many Jews in Israel. This would come as a shock to most US christians and jews.

    What should unite people of the US is the protection of free speech, even of those whom we hate. Michael Krieger is writing about this as well and has some interesting thoughts about this situation. “The First Amendment is Under Serious Assault in Order to Stifle Anti-Israel Boycotts”

    https://libertyblitzkrieg.com/2017/10/20/the-first-amendment-is-under-serious-assault-in-order-to-stifle-anti-israel-boycotts/

    • Jill, your problem, as always, is that there are people here who have a modicum of understanding of foreign controversies who know that you do not know what you’re talking about. Ever.

      Israel has attempted on six separate occasions (1967, 1972 / 76, 1978, 1993 / 2000, 2004, and 2008) to arrange for the transfer of territories or devolution on such territories. They’ve ultimately been rebuffed every time, most spectacularly when the shambolic Oslo process fell to pieces. The rebuffs have a reason which you can divine by examining public opinion surveys on the West Bank and Gaza. North of 1/3 of the population fancy a ‘solution’ to the political conflict is that Israel ceases to exist. Another 30% insist the sine qua non of a settlement is that a 7-digit population of Arabs be permitted to settle in Israel at their discretion. You have maybe 1/3 of the Arab population who have been willing to cut a deal with their Jewish neighbors. One of the few times the local Arab population has conducted a free and fair vote, 45% of the ballots were cast for Hamas, which makes its view of the Jewish state very clear. Another 7% went to a red-brown coalition which uses a different idiom but has the same substantive view. About 40% went to the same crew of racketeers who made the Oslo process such a shambles.

      There isn’t anything Israel can do but make incremental adjustments in defense of its own security. As is, the bulk of the Arab population lives neither under an Israeli civil administration nor within the perimeter of Israeli security patrols. What have they done with their independence (Aside from hoover up donor money for their patronage networks)?

      Anyone who can reliably assess personal and collective agency can understand this. You cannot.

      • You are correct.

        Why are most of the American public unaware of all of the times that Israel has tried to make peace. Why are they unaware of the whole “Death to Israel” taught to Arab schoolchildren the way we teach The Pledge of Allegiance to ours?

        How do you negotiate with someone who wants you dead?

  6. Texas right-wingers are so proud of their freedom but they will whore themselves out for the Jewish state. What a joke. California is welcome to take Texas with it, if it leaves the union.

    • California will be beyond stupid if it succeeds in leaving the Union. No more federal benefits, grants, or other money. It has to be self supporting as its own nation, have its own military, it’s own resources or the funds to import resources, negotiate treaties and trade agreements with other nations. And if its open border, sanctuary state becomes a sanctuary nation, with its proposals to offer free health care to illegal immigrants, it will promptly be overrun and become Venezuela, with people killing each other over toilet paper or a handful of food. CA hates fossil fuels, so if it goes all alternative energy, that will drive up the cost of energy exponentially in the highest tax and spend state in the union. I wonder if it would persist in its high speed rail boondoggle.

      Without the Union to keep bailing it out, CA would be easy pickings for invasion after its economy collapses. I wonder how the Entitlement Generation would fare.

        • Thanks, Cape Cod Skeptic. The stars aligned, and I actually have access to WiFi, but I can’t watch the entire video because of time constraint.

          I enjoyed the part of the speech that I was able to listen to, however. I’m quite familiar with Tulare county – that’s farm country. And the 99 Freeway he mentioned is a corridor of Oleander and Eucalyptus for many miles of farm country. It’s also a common trucking route, and the roads are in better condition than the bumpy 5 freeway. (When you are hauling horses, you plan your route based on how much your horses will be jostled and how many places you can safely pull over.) Many people living in that county are immigrant farm workers with very little education. He’s also quite right that CA is like two completely different states. There are the urban areas of San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and all of the rest of our vast state is essentially rural farmland. Most of the people are crammed into urban areas, which is why we are consistently blue, but most of the land is inhabited by conservative people in rural areas who cannot afford to pay the cost of raising the state minimum wage to a level where you can afford to survive in San Francisco. Most of the neighborhoods in CA have no legislative voice at all, and are dictated to by the urbanites who do not understand their needs at all. The coastal elites really do seem to live in a different state, an its the rural people who pay for it. He is absolutely right that poor people go to big stores to cool off in summer, and suffer at night.

          I have always felt like the Liberal Coastal Elite take the attitude of let them eat cake when you ask them how people are going to afford their grand ideas and still buy food and not die of heat or cold exposure.

          • He is also absolutely right that coastal elite Liberals vote for open borders, until their kids’ schools get filled with students who bring test scores down due to lack of education, and then they put their kids in expensive private schools and better test scores. Let the commoners’ kids deal with not being able to learn as resources get stretched thin.

            And many of us rural people are beside ourselves that CA is wasting billions on a high speed rail vacation train instead of building more water infrastructure. An, oh, the smelt implosion and all that fresh water wasted when that was not the problem after all!

            • Karen – my friend’s daughter is paying 30k per year for their kid to go to school. That is the base price. No extras. These kids go to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival for a week, that is extra, then there is some spring event, probably whaling in Alaska. 😉

              • For $30,000 a year, they’d better be actually putting on one of the Bard’s works at Ashland, and swimming with the whales (as long as they don’t run afoul of the marine mammals protection act.)

                But I believe it. Good private schools cost a ton. When a tipping point is reached in the number of kids in each class having insufficient education, it makes the teacher have to spend time on remediation instead of teaching new material.

    • Texas right-wingers are so proud of their freedom but they will whore themselves out f

      Really? What benefits are ‘Texas right wingers’ getting from this? (I mean in actuality, not in the Stormfront imagination).

  7. “This appears due to the Texas state law passed earlier this year that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. It seems obvious that a competent lawyer could adopt an interpretation that would exclude the clause entirely or at least with regard to hurricane relief. The problem is due to the decision to fashion relief recipients as “independent contractors.””

    This is going to be one of those decisions that blows up.

    First, I understand that the original state law was to prevent the state from engaging with companies who try to hurt our country’s ally, as well as to try to remain neutral. Supporting the BDS movement would not be neutral.

    This should have been a non issue. Clearly, hurricane relief does not apply, as the recipients are not state contractors. The attorney who insisted they were required to add the clause was wrong. This turns the situation from removing the state from the BDS movement, to an infringement on free speech and free association.

    I do not support BDS. It’s anti-semitic, and if successful, would lead to another Jewish genocide. Regardless, people are free to support whatever misguided causes they want. They are free to be racist, anti-semitic, or chauvinistic on their own time. The First Amendment does not just apply to speech that I agree with.

    The addition of that BDS clause was wrong, and the state will probably be sued over it. And rightly so.

  8. The professor begins by professing “…
    Again, this is nothing to do with the merits of the BDS controversy or Israel. …”

    Is that analogues to saying that being Japanese had nothing to do with the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214?

    The professor labels BDS a “controversy.” Is BDS a boycott? Is the “boycott a controversy? Or, is there a “controversy” over the “boycott?” To whom is the boycott a controversy?

    Yes, one can and lawyers do state questions in the law in a bloodless, lifeless and fact-less manner.

    But, does any one seriously doubt the human beings in the case, the facts of the case, the money in the case and the political dynamics of case ( particularly in this case, this issue ) do not matter as much, if not more, far more, than any attempt to word a neutral, pure Constitutional, legal question?

    The professor’s use of “I” and “ we” in all his writing, but particularly in this piece of writing shows a serious and troubled confusion of “authorial voice.” The professor’s steady, if not constant, shifting of subject pronouns suggests a lack of confidence or courage. Or, perhaps, he is attempting to hide someone or something.

    Again, the professor seems to lack the ability to stand a particular ground when he opines “…
    As should not surprise anyone given my past stated views of free speech, [ I ] oppose such laws as current ( sic ) drafted.  For those of us concerned over these laws, it is not about being anti-Israel but pro-free speech.  [ We ] would oppose similar efforts to punish those doing business with Israel or other such laws. 
    …”

    [ I will not comment on the professor’s failure to proofread his posts or to have a competent, self respecting person edit his writings. Why? Because I have become almost immune or, at least deadened, to his sloppy and low grade writing, if not thinking. Or, is it rhetorical sophistry?

    Again, again and again,
    “…
    [ I ] do not support the BDS movement but I respect people who hold opposing views.  [ We ] do not need the government to interject itself and state power into the debate.”

    The professor’s final point argues, “…
    Punishing those who support the BDS movement will only fuel the anti-Israeli sentiments and undermine the credibility of arguments being made on the merits against such boycotts.”

    Is this a Constitutional argument? Is this a legal argument? Is a question or issue of jurisprudence?

    Does the professor end by contradicting his beginning?

    What “chair” does professor Jonathon Turley hold?

    O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
    Walter Scott

    dennis hanna

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