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Texas city says no hurricane aid if you boycott Israel

Application clause for hurricane disaster relief requires that people not boycott Israel
10,000 residents from Dickinson, Texas, report damages to more than 7,000 homes and 88 businesses (AFP)

To receive Hurricane Harvey relief grants, residents and businesses from a small Texas city must pledge to not boycott Israel, according to the city of Dickinson’s application.

The application, found on Dickinson’s website, includes a clause stating that any individual or business asking for financial assistance “does not boycott Israel” and “will not boycott Israel” if approved.

Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters, whose house was flooded by Harvey, told Middle East Eye that the clause was added because of a state law that forbids contractors to boycott Israel.

The law is known as the Anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions law (Anti-BDS). Passed and signed into law in May, it was touted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott: "I am proud to have commemorated Israel’s Independence Day by signing into law Anti-BDS legislation in Texas," Abbott said in a news release. 

“As Israel's number one trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel and we will continue to build on our historic partnership. Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally,” he added.

Masters said Dickinson's attorney and the city council are discussing the possibility of removing the clause. The town does not have a strong financial connection to Israel, nor does it have many Israeli immigrants.

Houston-based civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen told Middle East Eye that the clause is a violation of freedom of speech.

“It would violate the first amendment to the Constitution to require someone to abstain from a boycott of a country, because boycotts are treated the same as speech by the law," Kallinen said.

"The Supreme Court of the United States has already decided that boycotts are a form of free speech. You cannot premise disaster relief acceptance upon agreeing to not boycott someone,” he said.

He also added that “there is no indication” the anti-BDS law applies to individuals.

Rights groups, including the ACLU, agree that the clause violates free speech.

“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in a news release.

“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity,” Segura added.

Surrounding cities hit by Harvey have not added similar stipulations that Middle East Eye could find, and Kallinen said he is unaware of any other municipalities requiring a like-minded clause.

Hurricane Harvey wrecked the Texas Gulf shore when it landed south of Houston, then moved slowly up the coast, dumping historic amounts of rainfall and flooding thousands of homes and businesses. Two university professors estimated that the total damage in the areas affected may reach almost $200bn.

According to police reports, 10,000 residents from Dickinson reported damages to more than 7,000 homes and 88 businesses.

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