A Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath

So She Lost Her Texas Elementary School Job

pll-1544914724

Map: Palestine Legal

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, December 17 2018

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.

But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

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:

isa-1544881457-tint-1545064635

That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled territory”). The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

Whatever one’s own views are, boycotting Israel to stop its occupation is a global political movement modeled on the 1980s boycott aimed at South Africa that helped end that country’s system of racial apartheid. It has become so mainstream that two newly elected members of the U.S. Congress explicitly support it, while boycotting Israeli companies in the occupied territories has long been advocated in mainstream venues by Jewish Zionist groups such as Peace Now and the Jewish-American Zionist writer Peter Beinart.

This required certification about Israel was the only one in the contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.

In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.

That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”

Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decadeslong occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Amawi, as the mother of four young children and a professional speech pathologist, is not a leader of any political movements: She has simply made the consumer choice to support the boycott by avoiding the purchase of products from Israeli companies in Israel or the occupied West Bank. She also occasionally participates in peaceful activism in defense of Palestinian self-determination that includes advocacy of the global boycott to end the Israeli occupation.

Watch The Intercept’s three-minute video of Amawi, as she tells her story, here:

Continue reading

Lawmakers Consider Adding Measure Protecting Israel

Senator Richard C. Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has objected to unrelated bills clinging to his panel’s work. (Erin Schaff for The New York Times)

Emily Cochrane, New York Times, December 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — Just days away from a partial government shutdown, lawmakers are weighing adding a contentious measure to a stymied spending package that would keep American companies from participating in boycotts — primarily against Israel — that are being carried out by international organizations.

Critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Palestinian rights organizations, say the bill infringes on First Amendment rights and is part of a broader effort on the state and federal levels to suppress support for efforts to boycott, divest investments from and place sanctions on Israel, a movement known as B.D.S.

“The crux of it is silencing one side of the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Manar Waheed, the senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the A.C.L.U. “Anything that creates a penalty for any First Amendment-related activities is an infringement of the First Amendment.”

The bill, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is one of several pieces of pet legislation that lawmakers are advocating in the final days of the session, hoping to add to a package of seven spending bills that need to pass to keep the government fully funded past Friday. President Trump has said repeatedly that he will not sign any spending bills unless they contain at least $5 billion to begin building a wall on the border with Mexico.

As the package languishes, lawmakers see an opportunity to give their bills life before the current Congress ends this month. Other pieces of legislation that could be added include the so-called Blue Water Bill, which would allow Vietnam-era sailors who say they were exposed to Agent Orange as they served offshore to receive the same health benefits as those who were exposed on land. Other lawmakers are seeking to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended with a brief stopgap spending bill two weeks ago.

But so far, neither the White House nor congressional Democrats have signaled that they are willing to negotiate on wall funding, so none of the bills have a moving vehicle to latch onto.

Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters that a decision from Mr. Trump over how to handle the shutdown was imminent. But by Monday evening, nothing had emerged.

Mr. Shelby has objected to unrelated bills clinging to his committee’s work, arguing that their inclusion could be another hindrance to final passage. But among lawmakers eager to notch one more legislative victory in a historically unproductive session of Congress, there is still hope that a few more bills could slip through.

“People are looking for whatever vehicle is available that is moving out the door — there isn’t much left,” said Sue Walitsky, a spokeswoman for Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland and a sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. “We’re counting down days and hours.”

The act would expand amendments first added to the Export Administration Act in 1977, initially to protect American companies from the Arab League boycott of Israel.

Supporters of the measure dispute critics who say it would stifle pro-Palestinian activism.

“These kinds of First Amendment issues were not raised in ’77,” said Stuart E. Eizenstat, the chief White House domestic policy adviser during the Carter administration when the amendments were negotiated. “Since it’s come up here, in many ways, this legislation is stronger in protecting First Amendment rights because it explicitly indicates that political views are protected.”

The bill sponsored by Mr. Cardin and Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, was conceived after the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would create a database of companies that have business in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, whose governance and status have been in dispute since the Six Day War in 1967.

“From our perspective, we have to protect U.S. companies from being put in a position that could harm them,” Ms. Walitsky said.

The bill, which would impose penalties on boycott participants, has already been modified after complaints from the A.C.L.U., which does not publicly take a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about the infringement on First Amendment rights. Supporters of the legislation say that the language does not prevent companies and individuals, independent of direction from foreign countries or international agencies, from announcing their intent to boycott Israel.

“Our bipartisan legislation is a direct response to highly selective and discriminatory efforts to isolate Israel, such as those by the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Mr. Portman said in a statement.

Continue reading

Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel

A Senate bill aims to punish those who boycott Israel over its settlement policy. There are better solutions.

Senator Ben Cardin speaking at the J Street National Conference in April. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa, via Associated Press)

The New York Times Editorial Board, December 18, 2018

One of the more contentious issues involving Israel in recent years is now before Congress, testing America’s bedrock principles of freedom of speech and political dissent.

It is a legislative proposal that would impose civil and criminal penalties on American companies and organizations that participate in boycotts supporting Palestinian rights and opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The aim is to cripple the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as B.D.S., which has gathered steam in recent years despite bitter opposition from the Israeli government and its supporters around the world.

The proposal’s chief sponsors, Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, want to attach it to the package of spending bills that Congress needs to pass before midnight Friday to keep the government fully funded.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby group, strongly favors the measure.

J Street, a progressive American pro-Israel group that is often at odds with Aipac and that supports a two-state peace solution, fears that the legislation could have a harmful effect, in part by implicitly treating the settlements and Israel the same, instead of as distinct entities. Much of the world considers the settlements, built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law.

Although the Senate sponsors vigorously disagree, the legislation, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is clearly part of a widening attempt to silence one side of the debate. That is not in the interests of Israel, the United States or their shared democratic traditions.

Critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and several Palestinian rights organizations, say the bill would violate the First Amendment and penalize political speech.

The hard-line policies of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, including expanding settlements and an obvious unwillingness to seriously pursue a peace solution that would allow Palestinians their own state, have provoked a backlash and are fueling the boycott movement.

It’s not just Israel’s adversaries who find the 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.

The same is true of Palestinians. They are criticized when they resort to violence, and rightly so. Should they be deprived of nonviolent economic protest as well? The United States frequently employs sanctions as a political tool, including against North Korea, Iran and Russia.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Portman say their legislation merely builds on an existing law, the Export Control Reform Act, which bars participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel, and is needed to protect American companies from “unsanctioned foreign boycotts.”

They are especially concerned that the United Nations Human Rights Council is compiling a database of companies doing business in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem, a tactic Senate aides say parallels the Arab League boycott.

But there are problems with their arguments, critics say. The existing law aimed to protect American companies from the Arab League boycott because it was coercive, requiring companies to boycott Israel as a condition of doing business with Arab League member states. A company’s motivation for engaging in that boycott was economic — continued trade relations — not exercising free speech rights.

By contrast, the Cardin-Portman legislation would extend the existing prohibition to cover boycotts against Israel and other countries friendly to the United States when the boycotts are called for by an international government organization, like the United Nations or the European Union.

Neither of those organizations has called for a boycott, but supporters of Israel apparently fear that the Human Rights Council database is a step in that direction.

Continue reading

ADC is Proud to Stand with Marc Lamont Hill

for Defending the Rights of the Palestinian People
November 30, 2018

ADC is proud to stand with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill for defending equal rights for the Palestinian people. ADC condemns in the strongest terms the abhorrent decision by CNN to fire Dr. Hill from his position as a commentator with the network. Dr. Hill continuously stands in support of human rights, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people — the very principles which got him fired. It is outrageous that CNN would fire Dr. Hill simply for his position that the Palestinian people are entitled to have full equal rights and protection under the law. The action taken by CNN is a shameful decision and contradictory to the networks supposed principles of fairness and fact telling.

During a United Nations organized event commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Dr. Hill gave a compelling and comprehensive testimony describing Israel’s ongoing decades long assault and occupation of the Palestinian people. Throughout his testimony, Dr. Hill outlined the institutional forms of discrimination and racism that the Palestinian people experience on a daily basis. ADC commends Dr. Hill for advocating for equal political and human rights for the Palestinian people.

CNN provides platforms to commentators who regularly make anti-Arab and xenophobic remarks. One of their regular commentators is former Senator Rick Santorum who routinely denies the existence of Palestinians as a people. CNN still refuses to take any action against Santorum. This is one example of many in which the network has ignored racist commentary, and instead provides a platform for those like Santorum to continue their campaign of dehumanizing Arabs and Palestinians.

ADC stands firm in support of Dr. Hill’s call to the international community to uphold the principles of human rights and international law for all peoples. The Palestinian people cannot be an exception to human rights or the principle of equality. It is the obligation and duty of the international community to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations against the Palestinian people and ensure the protection of their rights.

Tell CNN to Reinstate Marc Lamont Hill

On Thursday, November 29, 2018, CNN announced that it had severed ties with Temple University Professor and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill over a speech he gave in support of Palestinian human rights at the United Nations a day earlier.

Professor Hill addressed the UN on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, drawing attention to the continued human rights violations perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Professor Hill has been vilified, defamed, and falsely accused of harboring hateful views. His words were distorted by pro-Israel groups seeking to undermine his call for one state with equal rights for all.

Marc Lamont Hill

In his defense of the Palestinian people, Professor Hill did not call anyone to violence, nor did he call for the destruction of Israel. His legitimate criticism of Israeli apartheid policies, which include rights and privileges afforded only to Jewish citizens of Israel, has been unfairly conflated with anti-Semitism, which is a well-worn tactic used by pro-Israel activists to smear their opponents.

Professor Hill has been a tireless champion of human rights and justice for all people, and has always denounced all forms of hate and racism. On Thursday, he reiterated his position in a series of tweets, writing, “I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.”

CNN’s decision to dismiss one of its most popular commentators based on his principled stance against the oppression of Palestinians is blatant censorship. It’s hypocritical considering that one of its contributors is Rick Santorum whose hateful speech against Palestinians includes the denial of their existence. Another regular contributor, Alan Dershowitz, has a history of demonizing Palestinians and supported Israel’s use of torture against them. And yet, CNN chose to fire one of its few contributors of color.

The silencing of voices conducive to the free exchange of ideas is dangerous. It is not befitting a media outlet that prides itself on objectivity to stifle a critical viewpoint—much less one that is becoming increasingly mainstream.

CNN, you should not have caved into pressure. Reinstate Marc Lamont Hill immediately!

[ACTION ITEMS]

[1] Write to CNN President Jeff Zucker at Jeff.Zucker@turner.com and demand that CNN reinstates Marc Lamont Hill! Sample email included in this action.

[2] Tweet or write on social media in support of Marc Lamont Hill using the #IStandWithMLH. Sample tweets are below:

    During a time when media is under attack from those in power in our government, how can @CNN pretend to peddle objective journalism after making such a blatantly biased decision? #IStandWithMLH

    Media outlets like @CNN should defend free speech at a time when honest journalism is under attack. Firing a commentator for speaking facts is hypocritical. #IStandWithMLH

    Standing for Palestinian human rights is not a fireable offense @CNN. #IStandwithMLH

[3] Call or write to CNN to protest its cowardly decision and demand they reinstate Professor Marc Lamont Hill and respect the free exchange of ideas!

    CNN phone number: 1 (404) 827-1500

    Leave a comment: www.cnn.com/feedback

Continue reading

Tell CNN: Advocating for Palestinian Rights is not Antisemitic


On Wednesday, Marc Lamont Hill, a political commentator on CNN, delivered a speech to the United Nations in support of the Palestinian people. He advocated for their human rights, outlined how Israel denies Palestinians their basic liberties, and asked the international community to ‘commit to political action’.

The next day — under pressure from right-wing leaders and the Jewish establishment — CNN fired him.

This news is appalling. We are demanding that CNN reinstate Marc Lamont Hill because advocating for Palestinian rights should NOT be a fireable offense. In supporting Palestinian freedom, Marc Lamont-Hill was in no way being anti-semitic.

Marc Lamont Hill has spent much of his life fighting against racism and oppression in America. In a tweet responding to accusations against him, he said “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things”.

Especially in the Trump Era, it is dangerous to link advocating for Palestinian rights to anti-semitism. It distracts from real threats to Jewish community — the rise of white nationalism.

Unfortunately, the ADL already vilified Marc Lamont Hill for his criticism of Israeli policy. Once again we are seeing the American Jewish establishment censor conversations about Palestinian rights by falsely claiming antisemitism, and it is setting a terrifying precedent.

Meanwhile, CNN has not cut ties with many other frequent contributors who have expressed beliefs that are actually bigoted. For example, Rick Santorum, currently a senior political commentator at CNN, has such reactionary views on Israel that he has called Palestinians an “invented people.”

Just imagine being fired because you gave a speech that criticized Israel’s policy of Occupation and declared that Palestinian deserve basic human rights. That is why we as Jews are saying it is not antisemitic to demand freedom for the Palestinian people, and advocating for Palestinian human rights should not be a fireable offense.

We need a future where no one lives in fear of being fired for talking about Palestinian human rights and liberation. Demanding freedom and dignity for all Palestinians can also include demanding an end to antisemitism and white nationalism.

CNN, we call on you to reinstate Marc Lamont Hill immediately.

Sign the petition here.

If Not Now is a movement within the American Jewish community, across generations and organizational affiliations. It is open to any who seek to shift the American Jewish public away from the status quo that upholds the occupation.