In a return to the bad old days of McCarthyism, Bahia Amawi, a US citizen of Palestinian descent, lost her Texas elementary school job after refusing to pledge in writing that she would not participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Earlier this month, Amawi sued the school district that fired her.
The BDS movement against Israel has become a hot button issue in the closing month of 2018. A bipartisan group of senators tried to attach the Israel Anti-Boycott Act to the unanimous spending bill that Trump almost signed to avoid the current government shutdown. Meanwhile, Donorbox, a US software company, blocked the BDS fundraising account at the behest of a pro-Israel group.
"The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian or McCarthyite self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading," Glenn Greenwald wrote at The Intercept.
On December 12, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit on Amawi's behalf in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas against Pflugerville Independent School District, alleging that Texas' law requiring the oath violates the First Amendment. Amawi's complaint says the law constitutes an impermissible attempt "to impose an ideological litmus test or compel speech related to government contractors' political beliefs, associations, and expressions."
Amawi had contracted with the school district for nine years to work with students with autism and developmental disabilities in Austin. This fall, for the first time, Amawi was required to sign an oath that she would not boycott Israel. When she refused to sign it, she was fired.
"The point of boycotting any product that supports Israel is to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its treatment, the inhumane treatment, of the Palestinian people," Amawi explained. "Having grown up as a Palestinian, I know firsthand the oppression and the struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis."
The BDS movement was launched by representatives of Palestinian civil society in 2005, calling upon "international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era ... [including] embargoes and sanctions against Israel."
This call specified that "these non-violent punitive measures" should last until Israel fully complies with international law by (1) ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the barrier wall; (2) recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their land as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
Even though it is a nonviolent movement, Israel sees BDS as a threat to its hegemony over the Palestinians. Israel illegally occupies Palestinian territories, maintaining effective control over Gaza's land, airspace, seaport, electricity, water, telecommunications and population registry. Israel deprives Gazans of food, medicine, fuel and basic services, and continues to build illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.
"There will not be progress toward a just peace without pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian rights," said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. "Bringing about that pressure, through a global grassroots mobilization, is exactly what BDS is about."
After Amawi's firing, The New York Times editorial board wrote,
"It's not just Israel's adversaries who find the [BDS] movement appealing. Many devoted supporters of Israel, including many American Jews, oppose the occupation of the West Bank and refuse to buy products of the settlements in occupied territories. Their right to protest in this way must be vigorously defended."
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS, said in an email to The New York Times, "Having lost many battles for hearts and minds at the grass-roots level, Israel has adopted since 2014 a new strategy to criminalize support for BDS from the top" in order to "shield Israel from accountability."
Barghouti called Shurat HaDin, the group behind the Donorbox action blocking the BDS account, a "repressive organization with clear connections to the far-right Israeli government" that is "engaging in McCarthyite ... tactics ... in a desperate attempt to undermine our ability to challenge Israel's regime of apartheid and oppression."
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