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Ken Paxton Says Texas Has The Right To 'Boycott Boycotters' Of Israel

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at a press conference on May 18, 2018.

Attorney General Ken Paxton doubled-down on a Texas law that bans state contractors from boycotting Israel in a court filing yesterday.

In the filing, Paxton said the state law doesn't violate the First Amendment rights of a handful of independent contractors who sued the state over contract language that bans boycottting Israel. Instead, Paxton said, the law is aimed at companies boycotting Israel – not individuals who have personal reservations against Israel.

The state has received two challenges to the 2017 Texas law, House Bill 89, which passed with bipartisan support. The first was filed in December by Bahia Amawi, a former speech pathologist for the Pflugerville Independent School District, who says her agreement with the district was terminated when she refused to sign her contract renewal.

Days later, the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of four contractors across the state whose employment was terminated for not signing a contract or who hold reservations about the language. Both cases argue the state's mandate violates First Amendment rights – as the plaintiffs have expressed opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank – and that the law imposes an "ideological litmus test" to curtail expression.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman allowed those two challenges to continue as one lawsuit against the state.

After his office's filing yesterday, Paxton said the law doesn't prevent contractors from expressing personal opinions as individuals, but rather it allows the state to discontinue business with a company that boycotts Israel on a wholesale basis.

"The state of Texas has the right to boycott boycotters in this instance. Doing so does not suppress protected speech or expression," Paxton said. "The law supports a long-established principle of non-discrimination."

The law was spurred by the so-called BDS movement that encourages boycotts, divestment and sanctions to "end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law," according to the movement's website. 

Twenty-four states have laws similar to Texas'.

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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