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US federal court blocks Texas from enforcing anti-BDS law on contractor

25th Feb 2022

Harun Nasrullah

On January 28, a US Federal court ruled that Texas could not enforce its anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) law against a contractor who refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.

Palestinian-American Rasmy Hassouna, who is VP of A&R Engineering and Testing Inc, sued in November to challenge a law prohibiting the state from contracting with companies taking part in the boycott of Israel.

The firm said in its complaint filed in a Houston Federal court that the law violates its First Amendment right to take part in economic boycotts as a protest.

Writing in his ruling that granted an injunction that blocks Texas from enforcing the anti-boycott law against Hassouna, US District Judge Andrew S Hanen, said “The speech contemplated by [Rasmy’s company] may make some individuals – especially those who identify with Israel – uncomfortable, anxious, or even angry.

Nevertheless, speech – even speech that upsets other segments of the population – is protected by the First Amendment unless it escalates into violence and misconduct. The Court does find that Hassouna authentically holds a pro-Palestinian point of view that is protected by the First Amendment.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which filed the suit, hailed the court ruling as “a major victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s repeated attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine”.

Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for CAIR, said, “These regressive attempts to create a Palestine-exception to the First Amendment betray the central role boycotts have played in our history.”

While the injunction applies only to Hassouna at this preliminary stage, [Judge] Hanen’s reasoning indicates that “this latest attempt to suppress advocacy for Palestine is likely to fail,” said the group.

“State lawmakers should note this decision… There’s no place for banning boycotts under the First Amendment,” said CAIR’s National Litigation Director, Lena Masri.

According to the suit, A&R has, over the past 17 years, done more than $2 million worth of business with the city of Houston. When he received his contract for renewal in October, Hassouna noticed an additional clause in it that required him to pledge not to boycott Israel.

He refused to sign the contract renewal, acknowledging compliance with the law, which applies to all municipalities and the state.

“It is my right and duty to boycott Israel and any products of Israel,” said Hassouna. This policy is against my constitutional right and against international law.”

In 2019, a similar lawsuit was won against the Texas law. The suit was filed on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who refused to sign a contract to renew her job with the Austin public school district.
The contract included a clause that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise take any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that country.

In a 56-page order, the federal judge in the case wrote that the law, House Bill 89, “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”

In addition to Amawi’s lawsuit, a separate suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four Texans who were forced under the law to “choose between signing the certification or forgoing professional opportunities and losing income,” according to the ACLU.

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