Texas, Georgia, Virginia & more grapple with anti-BDS laws, make little victories
While laws in US states force employees to sign a contract that forbids them of boycotting "Israel," activists and citizens and fighting for their right to free expression.
US states have been in a debacle with citizens and civil liberty groups over matters regarding boycotting "Israel" - in 2017, Texas passed a law that requires public employees and companies to sign a contract that they will not engage in any boycott of "Israel" or else they will face consequences.
However, with multiple lawsuits, Texas federal courts ruled that such a contract is unconstitutional.
That case is causing a ripple effect: Georgia and Virginia, according to the Electronic Intifada, are trying to crush citizens' rights to boycott "Israel" - but the people are fighting back.
After Rasmy Hassouna, a Palestinian owner of an engineering firm sued the state for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge to "Israel" to secure a contract with Houston, a federal judge ordered an injunction which prohibits the state from forcing this contract on Hassouna.
Although the measure does not fix the law per se, it's a 'significant defeat' against Zionist efforts to prohibit boycotts.
“This is a major victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s repeated attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine,” stated Gadeir Abbas, an attorney working with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which represented Hassouna and his firm.
Multiple lawsuits were filed over the years, including by activist Bahia Amawi, who also refused to sign a contract to renew her job at a public school.
After multiple lawsuits, including by the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas amended the law, which requires the contract to only apply to companies with more than 10 employees, in addition to companies with contracts over $100,000.
“These amendments, which are designed to remove the plaintiffs challenging the law from its reach, may reduce the number of individuals affected by the law, but fail to resolve the underlying constitutional issues,” warns civil rights group Palestine Legal.
Journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin has challenged Georgia's anti-boycott law. Being invited to be a speaker at Georgia Southern University, she refused to sign a contract forced upon her that prohibits her to boycott "Israel."
Her speech, in addition to the entire conference, was canceled in January 2020.
In February the same year, she filed a lawsuit against the anti-boycott laws. The verdict emerged in May 2021, where a federal judge supported Martin's lawsuit, and that the law is against free speech.
Israeli governmental officials, though, worked "in broad daylight" to amend the measure, but not repeal it. Harold Hershbeg, an Israeli government official, had a special interest in the Georgia law - he was the only one to ask the authorities to change the law, and they complied, according to Martin.
It was “a shocking act of foreign subversion,” she adds.
However, a few weeks back, the state amended the measure which would rather force the contract on companies that are worth more than $100,000, or with companies with more than 5 employees.
“As promised, Israel and the Georgia state legislature came back with an amended law to try to moot my case,” Martin says. “But here’s the thing: the law is still ruled unconstitutional. It is still unenforceable in the state of Georgia. No one will have to sign this pro-Israel pledge in order to work for the state for contracts under $100,000.”
It would still be unconstitutional to punish citizens who refuse to sign the contract, even with companies worth more than $100,000.
The attempt by Georgia lawmakers “to put lipstick on an unconstitutional pig does not alter the fact that the underlying law is still unconstitutional and that they have been defeated in federal court,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Martin’s attorney.
Lawmakers in Virginia, mid-January, introduced measures that would force companies that enjoy contracts worth more than $10,000 to sign a contract that prohibits boycott. However, Virginia activists are not having it.
Jewish Voice for Peace will be demanding politicians in the state to demand the protection of free speech.
In 2016, McCarthyite blacklist which sanctions companies that refuse to do business with "Israel" was defeated by pro-Palestinian activists in Virginia.