Pathologist forced to quit refusing to pledge allegiance to Israel fights to change Texas law

25th Jan 2019

Elham Asaad Buaras

A schoolchildren’s speech pathologist who was forced out of her job after she refused to sign a pro-Israel contract has sued a Texas school district for infringing on her constitutional First Amendment right for freedom of expression.

Lawyers for Bahia Amawi also filed an injunction with a Federal judge to stop the enforcement of a 2017 law, which bans public sector workers, companies and contractors from boycotting Israel, while her case is heard.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the against Texas on December 21. According to CAIR, Amawi’s case is one of six lawsuits targeting the new law.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement was formed in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society and rights groups to pressure Israel to ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

It demands a boycott of Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian human rights, and for other institutions to divest their interests in those companies.

CAIR Trial Attorney, Carolyn Homer, said, “Supreme Court precedent is clear,” and that the state of Texas cannot demand Amawi, “or any contractor, give up their First Amendment right to boycott as a condition of receiving state funds.”

Amawi  has worked in last nine years with disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired schoolchildren in the state. On September 10, 2018, the school district provided Amawi with an addendum to the contract with Pflugerville Independent School District requiring her to sign a compliance clause vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation.

Amawi is a US citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialised in evaluations for young children with language difficulties.

The new contract stems from a law passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature and governor in May 2017 that prohibited state agencies from contracting with companies boycotting Israel. Amawi’s case is the first reported case of a contractor losing their job for refusing to sign the oath since the law was passed.

Amawi’s lawyer John Floyd, termed the Texas law “a very strange piece of legislation because it is obviously unconstitutional on its face. It appears it was passed to gain cheap political points from a donor base.”

“It could happen to anyone who receives state funding,” Floyd said.

“It could just as easily have happened to someone who is providing the meals to the school or fixing the roads. It can apply to a policeman, a fireman, a public school teacher. We will file an injunction with a federal judge that will halt the enforcement of the law until the case is over,” Floyd added.

“We will be asking the Federal judge to enjoin both the application of the statute as to Ms Amawi and to all contractors throughout the state of Texas.”

The district said it was bound by the recently passed law. “This language is required by the State of Texas for all school districts in Texas, along with other governmental entities,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, Pflugerville ISD [Independent School District]  and all Texas school districts are at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law, and in situations such as this, we are forced to spend time on state political issues and not on our core mission educating students.”

In a sworn declaration to the court Amawi wrote, ‘As an advocate for Palestinian human rights and justice, I cannot certify that I do not boycott Israel, will not boycott Israel, or will not take action intended to inflict economic harm on Israel.’

She continues, ‘I refused to sign the addendum because I do not understand why my political protest against Israeli oppression has anything to do with my work as a speech-language pathologist for a Texas school district.’

Maryland lawsuit

CAIR has  also filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland on January 9  to block a measure seeking to stop state agencies from doing business with companies, entities, or individuals who boycott Israel.

Software engineer Saqib Ali was seeking to obtain a contract with Maryland to develop a tool to compare life insurance policies. In order to obtain the contract, he would have to sign a pledge saying he would not boycott Israel or any territories occupied by Israel, effectively denying his ability to participate in the BDS movement.

“I refused to sign such a pledge,” Ali said at a news conference. “Palestinians are not free, they live under a brutal military occupation, and until that occupation has ended, I decided that I would boycott Israel. It is my First Amendment right. It is guaranteed by the US Constitution.”

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