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US: Contractor sues Texas over anti-BDS law

A Palestinian-owned company is refusing to sign a contract requiring it to pledge to not boycott Israel
More than two dozen US states have adopted anti-boycott legislation.
More than two dozen US states have adopted anti-boycott legislation (AFP/File photo)

A Palestinian-owned engineering firm has filed a lawsuit challenging a Texas law that bars the state from doing business with companies participating in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

A&R Engineering and Testing Inc said in a 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.

"It is my right and duty to boycott Israel and any products of Israel," said Rasmy Hassouna, the company's executive vice president, according to the complaint. "This policy is against my constitutional right and against International Law."

According to the suit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of Hassouna, A&R has done more than $2m of business with the city of Houston over the past seventeen years.

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Last month, 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 a contract renewal acknowledging compliance with the law, which applies to all municipalities as well as the state. Hassouna worked with CAIR to file the suit.

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.

Hassouna said when he first saw the clause in the contract requiring him to pledge not to boycott Israel, it immediately evoked memories of when he lived in Gaza in the 1980s, and also brought to mind his family that was still living there.

"When I saw that statement, my family came in front of my face. I have brothers. I have sisters. I have nephews and nieces living back in Gaza," he said during a news conference on Monday.

"Just a few months ago, they were under attack from the IDF, [Israeli security forces], and you just watched the news and so many children were killed," he added, referring to the Israeli offensive on Gaza in May that killed at least 248 Palestinians, including more than 60 children.

Anti-BDS laws

Texas is one of several US states that have enacted laws targeting the BDS movement, a non-violent and Palestinian-led initiative that encourages individuals, nations and organisations to censure Israel's consistent violations of international law and human rights standards through various boycotts.

The state has also announced it would be limiting its business with the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's after the company announced it would stop its operations in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

More than two dozen states have adopted anti-boycott measures, most of which ban state entities from doing business with companies or individuals engaged in the BDS movement.

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However, in recent years, federal courts in a number of those states have deemed the legislation unconstitutional, including in a decision made in Georgia earlier this year. The Houston lawsuit is the latest example of these challenges.

The first iteration of the Texas law was struck down in 2019, when Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist, filed a lawsuit after she was not allowed to sign a contract extension with a public school district near the state’s capital Austin – unless she pledged to not boycott Israel.

Texas has since enacted a new version of the law that does not bar sole proprietorships - a business made up of one individual - from engaging in a boycott.

Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney for CAIR, issued a note of confidence saying the civil rights group would be successful in the current legal challenge, as it is similar to another lawsuit they brought against the Texas law.

"We don't ask state contractors in Texas to pledge allegiance to the United States of America," Abbas said during a Monday news conference.

"We're asking state contractors to pledge allegiance to Israel. And that is illegal."