Bahia Amawi’s federal court suit may constitute the first direct challenge to new legislation aimed at curbing support for the growing Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, which ultimately aims to end apartheid in Palestinian and Israeli territories.
AUSTIN, TEXAS — A Texas speech pathologist has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas after she was reportedly fired for refusing to sign an oath that she would not boycott the apartheid state of Israel.
A U.S. citizen born in Austria and of Palestinian descent, Bahia Amawi is a speech specialist in western Texas who works with autistic and developmentally disabled people. The educator charges that the district refused to renew her contract in August after she declined to sign paperwork pledging that she “does not” and “will not” participate in any kind of boycott or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” against the Israeli state.
Speaking to Democracy Now!, Amawi explained her firsthand struggle with oppression and the reasoning behind her refusal to sign the oath:
I sent an email immediately, and I stopped even reading the additional codes [referring to the additional paperwork she was asked to sign in regards to Israel]. And I sent the email to my speech coordinator telling her, ‘Listen, I cannot sign this. This is against my principles, against my constitutional rights. And it’s also against my moral and ethical values, considering that I am a Palestinian American and I have family that actually live in the Occupied Territories, so it affects me personally, as well.’ So, it affects me in both ways — as an American citizen and as a Palestinian American, too.”
A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Amawi’s behalf this week alleging that the district’s refusal to renew her contract is a direct violation of her First Amendment rights as a U.S. citizen. Amawi, who worked for the Pflugerville Independent School District as a contractor for nearly 10 years, says her renewal contract contained a special document in August asking her to take an oath that she would not boycott or inflict economic harm against Israel in any fashion.
This may constitute the first direct challenge to new legislation aimed at curbing support for the growing Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States, which ultimately aims to end apartheid in Palestinian and Israeli territories.
A wave of anti-BDS laws
Texas became the 20th state of what are now 26 to pass anti-BDS legislation that infringes upon free speech by banning U.S. citizens from participating in boycotts against the Israeli apartheid state in various ways, such as refusing to renew a teacher’s contract. Thirteen additional states have similar legislation pending.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 17, 2018
The language in the oath Amawi was asked to sign would prohibit her from refusing to purchase goods from both Israel and the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, it could even ban her from expressing support for boycotts against Israel, if her speech or actions are construed to inflict financial harm on the apartheid state. Amawi explained:
The point of boycotting any product that supports Israel is to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment, of the Palestinian people. Having grown up as a Palestinian, I know firsthand the oppression and the struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis.”
Amawi refused to sign the oath because her family does not purchase goods made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank nor in the occupying entity of Israel itself. Amawi was the only Arabic-speaking speech specialist of her kind in the district, which boasts a growing Arab population.
Israel continues to construct illegal settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian territory despite international legislation barring it from doing so. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is illegal for an occupying entity to transfer its people into the occupied territory.
Furthermore, Israel has recently carried out a brutal repression against unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip, protests that have taken place every Friday since March after U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds. Since the protests began, 204 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces and more than 18,000 have sustained injuries.
Dubbed the Great Return March, Palestinians seek to return to their homeland in accordance with UN Resolution 194, which states that refugees have the right to return to their homes at the earliest practical date.
Watch | Democracy Now! meets the Texas Speech Pathologist Who Lost School Job for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Oath
Top Photo | Bahia Amawi, a former contractor in the Pflugerville Independent School District, is suing over a state law that says government contractors can’t boycott Israel. Bob Daemmrich | The Texas Tribune