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

Palestinian American filed the lawsuit after city of Houston required his company to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel
Rasmy Hassouna, executive vice president of the Palestinian-owned A&R Engineering and Testing Inc, said Texas' anti-BDS law violated his constitutional rights (Cair/Rasmy Hassouna)

A United States federal court has blocked the state of Texas from enforcing its anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) law against a Palestinian-American contractor who refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.

Rasmy Hassouna, an engineer and executive vice president of the Palestinian-owned A&R Engineering and Testing Inc, filed the lawsuit in November challenging a Texas law that bars the state from doing business with companies participating in the BDS movement against Israel.

The firm said in its complaint filed in a Houston federal court that the law violates its First Amendment right to participate in economic boycotts as a form of protest.

'The Court does find that Hassouna authentically holds a pro-Palestinian point of view that is protected by the First Amendment'

US District Judge, Andrew S Hanen

On Friday, US District Judge Andrew S Hanen granted an injunction that blocks Texas from enforcing the anti-boycott law against Hassouna.

“The speech contemplated by [Rasmy’s company] may make some individuals -especially those who identify with Israel -uncomfortable, anxious, or even angry," Hanen wrote in his ruling.

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"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,”

Milestone decision

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), who Hassouna worked with to file 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”.

“These regressive attempts to create a Palestine-exception to the First Amendment betray the central role boycotts have played in our history,” said Gadeir Abbas, Cair's senior litigation lawyer.

According to the Muslim advocacy group, the injunction ensures that Hassouna will be able to “contract with Houston without abandoning his First Amendment right to boycott Israel himself, or through the company he owns”.

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 and civil rights director, Lena Masri.

Duty to boycott

According to the suit, filed by Cair on behalf of Hassouna, A&R has done more than $2m of business with the city of Houston over the past 17 years.

Israel boycott: What is the BDS movement?
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In October, when he received his contract for renewal, Hassouna noticed a new clause contained 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 as well as 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 addition to filing the complaint, Hassouna, who is of Palestinian heritage and originally from Gaza, also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the law while the court case proceeds.

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