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Monday, October 23, 2017

United States of Israel

United States of Israel

Interesting article  regarding hurricane relief in Texas:

Houston Suburb Conditions Hurricane Relief Money On Residents’ Vow Not To Boycott Israel

Residents in Dickinson, Texas, who were affected by Hurricane Harvey may be ineligible for money to rebuild their homes because of their political beliefs.

A suburb outside of Houston is requiring residents who were affected by Hurricane Harvey to certify that they do not boycott Israel in order to apply for grant money to rebuild their home or business. 
Dickinson, Texas, located alongside a bayou about 30 miles southeast of Houston, suffered extensive damage during the hurricane that tore through the area two months ago. Half of the city’s 20,000 residents were impacted, and the storm caused serious damage to more than 7,000 homes and 88 businesses, according to local police reports.
On Monday, the city posted a three-page application for grant money on its website. The application requires residents to commit to using the money to repair their damaged homes or businesses, to follow all building codes and to verify that they do not boycott Israel.
A snapshot of the relevant boycott section of the application is shown. 
“It’s completely unreasonable,” said Ayesha Khan, a UTHealth PhD student who has been active in rebuilding and recovery efforts in Houston, and an organizer in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“This can prolong the time it will take to rebuild homes,” she said. “It’s institutionalized in a way that can impact families that are still homeless.”
Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters told HuffPost that her office has been “inundated” with angry phone calls and emails about the anti-BDS language in the grant application.
When Dickinson’s city attorney recommended including the Israel boycott clause, Masters thought, “God, this kind of feels like it’s infringing on free speech,” she said. But she said city officials also didn’t feel like they had much of a choice in the matter.
The Israel boycott provision in Dickinson’s application is a strict interpretation of a Texas state law passed earlier this year that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. Dickinson applicants have to agree to act as an “independent contractor” in order to receive grant money from the city.
Masters said she spoke with officials in the Texas attorney general’s office on Friday about clarifying the language in the state law so that the anti-boycott provision would only apply to contracts on the state level.
The American Civil Liberties Union argues that the Texas law is unconstitutional and is asking anyone who was forced to choose between signing the Dickinson application and forgoing hurricane relief money to contact the group’s Texas chapter. 

“The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and other decisions have established that the government may not require individuals to sign a certification regarding their political expression in order to obtain employment, contracts, or other benefits,” the ACLU wrote in a statement, referring to a 1982 decision that ruled that an NAACP boycott of a white-owned business in Mississippi was a protected form of free association and expression. 

he ACLU is currently representing a Mennonite school teacher in Kansas who was denied an employment opportunity after refusing to certify that she does not boycott Israeli products.
Because the Texas law was enacted recently, it is not yet clear how the state or cities will enforce the anti-BDS measure.
The primary purpose of the law is to “scare people away” from participating in “protected First Amendment activity,” Brian Hauss, an ACLU staff attorney said. Residents who are dependent on city funding to rebuild their homes and are worried about certifying something that isn’t true on a government document could decide it’s easiest to abstain from boycotting Israeli products, he said.
Texas is one of more than a dozen states that have passed laws in the last several years aimed at combating the BDS movement against Israel. Congress is also considering a bill that would make it a felony for Americans to boycott Israel.
Proponents of the BDS movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories. But critics of the movement describe it as an anti-Semitic effort to delegitimize Israel.
“Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said when he signed the bill into law in May.
The ACLU is not aware of any Texas cities other than Dickinson that have conditioned hurricane relief funding on vowing not to boycott Israel. But several cities, including San Antonio, Galveston, and Austin, have inserted anti-BDS clauses in their contracting documents.
This story has been updated to include comment from Dickinson’s mayor.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts:

Activists defeat anti-BDS legislation in Massachusetts

An anti-boycott amendment was withdrawn in the Massachusetts senate on 14 July following a campaign by Palestine solidarity groups.

The amendment, which was tacked onto an unrelated economic bill, would have blacklisted individuals and businesses that engage with the Palestinian-led boycott of Israel.

Amendment 133 was withdrawn within just a few hours of being proposed by Massachusetts State Senator Cynthia Creem.

These bills are part of a growing wave of legislation promoted by state and federal lawmakers – and encouraged by Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government – to suppress activism related to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Leading civil liberties groups and legal organizations have condemned such legislation as violating constitutionally protected rights of free speech and freedom of association.

Organizers in Massachusetts say that in order to successfully counter the imminent anti-boycott legislation there, they knew they had to engage directly with lawmakers over a sustained period.

“What happened in Massachusetts shows the importance of putting a broad coalition of groups together to challenge what we know is coming down the pike,” said Nancy Murray of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine.

Coalition building

In December 2015, a group of Massachusetts senators traveled to Israel on an all-expense-paid junket organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

The JCRC has an Israel lobby wing and supports anti-BDS legislation across the US.

A petition organized by the Boston Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine gathered 1,200 signatures, urging the senators to cancel their trip.

Activists filed an ethics complaint alleging that the senators would be violating state conflict of interest laws in accepting the junket, but it was rejected.

Murray said that upon the senators’ return, members of Palestine activism groups scheduled visits with as many of the lawmakers or their staff as they could.

The JCRC then announced last March that it was working with lawmakers to draft an anti-BDS bill.
Human rights activists reacted quickly, forming the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition. In just one week, they “got 61 organizations from across the state to sign an open letter to the state legislature condemning such legislation,” Murray said.

Mobilizing supporters

Then, last week, while activists met with State Senator Jaime Eldridge about General Electric – another focus of BDS campaigners, which is receiving $270 million in public funds to move its headquarters to Boston – Eldridge had said that an anti-BDS amendment was going to be heard that day during the senate session, according to Eli Gerzon of JVP-Boston.

Dozens of members of the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition were already at the state house in Boston that day, protesting against Israel’s policy of cutting off water access to Palestinian communities.

As soon as they got word that the anti-BDS amendment was going to be considered, the activists, who had been delivering letters to lawmakers about Israel’s water rights violations, urged their representatives – including Senator Creem – to oppose the amendment.

Coalition members also “mobilized their supporters to contact their senators by phone, email, and social media to urge them to oppose the amendment and succeeded in shutting it down,” the group Massachusetts Peace Action said in a press release.

“The lesson is: have a relationship with legislators,” Gerzon told The Electronic Intifada. “It really matters to be engaged locally.”

“More room”

Cole Harrison of Massachusetts Peace Action said that although the defeat of this amendment is a welcome victory, human rights defenders have to continue “make a lot of noise.”

“These anti-BDS bills are not enforceable, they’re unconstitutional; yet, they’re taken seriously,” he said. “So when we get in there and get our message out, they don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Still, Murray noted that activists must “be prepared and be present” as Israel lobby groups work closely with lawmakers to pass more anti-BDS bills across the country.

“We must let state legislators know we are organized and determined not to let them pursue business as usual as far as knee-jerk support for Israel is concerned,” she said.

Meanwhile, local activists are using the momentum of this victory to expand their boycott campaigns.
Ibraheem Samirah of the coalition member group Mass Against HP, which is urging the state to end its contracts with Hewlett-Packard over the company’s profiteering from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, said that the victory over the anti-BDS bill means that “there is more room” for his group to engage with local and state legislators than previously thought.

“We now know more clearly where our routes [for political pressure] are,” he said.

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