Texas law again prohibits boycotts of Israel on the ropes

A state law prohibiting public contractors from boycotting Israel — previously challenged by a speech pathologist at the Pflugerville school — appears unenforceable.

Driving the news: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing the latest blow to the state’s efforts to root out the boycott movement, delivered by a federal judge late last week.

  • US District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that Texas could not prevent an engineering company from boycotting Israel under its contract with the city of Houston.

The big picture: The case pits free speech against a move by Texas and other state legislatures to thwart boycotts of Israel.

  • Texas is one of more than two dozen states with laws aimed at limiting participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which its founders say aims to “end international support for the oppression of Palestinians.” by Israel”.

The backstory: In 2019, a federal judge in Austin blocked an earlier version of the law, saying it violated First Amendment rights.

  • A plaintiff in that case, Bahia Amawi, who speaks English and Arabic, had helped assess Arabic-speaking students in the Pflugerville School District.
  • But in September 2018, as part of her annual contract renewal, the district asked her to sign an endorsement, mandated by a 2017 state law, which she did not and would not boycott Israel during the contract length.
  • She hesitated and lost her job.

The other side: When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the law, he called Israel “an important ally,” adding that “anti-Israel policies are anti-Texan policies.”

Between the lines: After the 2019 ruling, state lawmakers rewrote the law so it only applies to businesses with 10 or more full-time employees and only for contracts worth $100,000 or more.

  • In the latest challenge, Houston-based A&R Engineering and Testing Inc. filed a lawsuit after the City of Houston asked the company to swear it would not boycott Israel for the duration of the his contract.
  • Hanen stopped short of blocking the state law, but he said the company’s free speech rights would be violated if the contract included the clause.

And after: Paxton is hoping for victory at the Conservative Fifth Circuit.

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