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Contractor Sues Pflugerville ISD Over State Law Requiring Pledge To Not Boycott Israel

Todd Wiseman
Texas Tribune

A Round Rock-based speech pathologist is suing the Pflugerville Independent School District over a 2017 state law that required her to pledge allegiance to Israel, which, she argues, violates her First Amendment right to free speech.

Contractor Bahia Amawi says the district informed her she was required to sign the pledge in September in order to receive payment. When she refused to sign the contract on moral grounds, she was forced to terminate her contract, she argued in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday.

Amawi has been contracting with the district for nine years, specializing in evaluations of Arabic-speaking students, according to the lawsuit.

KUT reached out to Pflugerville ISD for a comment on this story, but has not yet received a response.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations who's representing Amawi, said the suit aims to defend the so-called BDS movement – a movement by private companies and individuals to boycott, divest or sanction Israel on the grounds that it's illegally occupying Palestine.

"There’s really not much that’s more American than engaging in boycott activity," Abbas told KUT. "The BDS movement is a protected liberty that Bahia and others are engaged in, and she wants that right for herself and all Americans.”

Passed in 2017, House Bill 89 banned the state from contracting with any entity that boycotts Israel. Because Pflugerville ISD is a public entity, the suit argues, it included the clause in Amawi's contract. In the suit, Amawi says "she cannot in good faith certify or state that she does not boycott Israel, and will not engage in a boycott of Israel," citing the Israeli occupation of settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.

The bill passed with bipartisan support of the Texas House in 2017 on a vote of 131-0, with 12 members either absent or present but not voting. It received similar support in the Texas Senate, where it was approved on a 26-5 vote.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised the law at its signing in May of 2017, saying it would work to slow the BDS movement.

"After the bill becomes law, it ensures that certain public funds are not invested in any entities participating in this movement," Abbott said. "Additionally, state contraccts will only be given to verified businesses to guarantee that Texas maintains a strong and supportive relationship with Israel."

After Abbott's signature, the law went into effect in September 2017. The lawsuit says at least 24 other states have similar provisions.

Read the whole lawsuit:

This is a developing story.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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