Anti-BDS Laws Challenged as Unconstitutional After Speech Pathologist Loses Job at Texas School for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel Pledge

Texas officials are facing an onslaught of criticism after a speech pathologist lost her job at an elementary school for refusing to sign a pro-Israel pledge mandated by state law—a case that has cast a spotlight on efforts to neutralize the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes Israel’s oppression and slaughter of Palestinians.

“The language of the affirmation [speech pathologist Bahia] 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, journalist and attorney

According to a database maintained by a U.S.-based pro-Israel group, through executive orders and state-level legislation, elected officials in 26 states have imposed restrictions on people who wish to back BDS—a movement that was inspired by the 1980s initiative that helped force an end to racial apartheid in South Africa.

As Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, noted on Twitter, legislators in several other states are currently considering similar “laws that subordinate Americans’ free-speech rights to Israel’s ‘right’ to continue the occupation without criticism or consequence.”

The Texas law, passed last year, bars governmental entities from contracting with any person or company that engages in a boycott of Israel, defined as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory.”

As detailed in a Monday report by The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald and a lawsuit (pdf) filed on behalf of the speech pathologist by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, critics charge that anti-BDS measures like Texas’s violate the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment.

“Texas’s ban on contracting with any boycotter of Israel,” the CAIR lawsuit charges, “constitutes viewpoint discrimination that chills constitutionally-protected political advocacy in support of Palestine.”

Bahia Amawi was born in Austria, but is a U.S. citizen and has lived in the country for the past three decades. Fluent in English, German, and Arabic, the mother of four earned a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999. In 2009, she started working for the Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas on a contract basis to assess and assist children aged 3 to 11 as the region saw an influx of Arabic-speaking immigrants.

However, this year, after Amawi refused to sign the pro-Israel oath included in her contract renewal, she lost her job. As Greenwald, who is also a constitutional attorney, concluded, “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.”


One of the most remarkable elements of the oath Amawi refused to sign is just how specific and unusual it is. As Greenwald outlined:

“It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, you know, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protect our constitutional rights,” Amawi said of American officials who pass anti-BDS measures, in a video published Monday by The Intercept. Speaking of the example she hopes to set for her kids, she added, “I knew something had to be done and I couldn’t just let it pass by.”

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Responding to Greenwald’s report, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which defeated similar boycott laws in Arizona and Kansas earlier this year, tweeted:

ACLU staff attorney Brian Hauss added:

This post has been updated with comment from the ACLU.

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