A Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath

So She Lost Her Texas Elementary School Job

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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Israel practices ‘apartheid’ — Representative Betty McCollum


Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN)

Phil Weiss and Annie Robbins, Mondoweiss, October 2, 2018

The highlight of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference that concluded Sunday in St. Paul was a speech by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) that was that very rare and brave thing in mainstream US politics: an unapologetic endorsement of Palestinian human rights.

McCollum denounced Israel’s “brutal” “cruel” policy of detaining and torturing children, which she has sought to sanction through groundbreaking legislation that would end U.S. aid that supports those practices. She said that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel: “why can’t I hold a foreign government accountable for how they abuse an entire population of people under their control?”

She referred to the power of the Israel lobby over other legislators — a power that she first defied in 2006, when she told the Israel lobby group AIPAC that it was barred from her office till it apologized for saying she supported terrorists. She said that more and more Congresspeople are at last willing to take on Israel openly, witness the 29 co-sponsors of her bill (all Democrats).

And most importantly, McCollum described Israel under its “nation state of the Jewish people” law, which was enacted last July, as an “apartheid” state.

“Friends, the world has a name of that form of government that’s codified in the nation state law, and it’s called apartheid.”

McCollum, 64, is a former social studies teacher who represents a district that includes all of St. Paul and its northern and eastern suburbs. She is endorsed by J Street, the liberal Zionist organization. Her speech, in which she accepted a leadership award, can be found on Facebook. We have transcribed much of it below.

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States can’t punish businesses for boycotting Israel, federal judge in Arizona says


Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, in 2015 that calls for a boycott of products coming from the Israeli settlements. (Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse)

Isaac Stanley-Becker, The Washington Post, October 1, 2018

Mikkel Jordahl, a lawyer in Sedona, Ariz., can now choose to buy a different brand of printers.

No longer must he stick with Hewlett-Packard technology for fear of losing his contract with the state. For 12 years, he has provided legal advice to inmates in the Coconino County Detention Facility.

In his personal life, he avoids companies he considers complicit in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. His aim had been to extend his boycott to his one-person law office — for instance, refusing to purchase from Hewlett-Packard because its information technology services are used at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.

In his professional life, however, he was bound by a law, enacted by the Arizona legislature in 2016, requiring any business that has a state contract to certify that it was not boycotting Israel. He challenged the directive in court, claiming that it violated his First Amendment rights.

A federal judge in Arizona found merit in his complaint. U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa issued an injunction last week, blocking enforcement of the measure, which compels any business contracting with the state to submit a written pledge that it was not involved in boycott activity targeting Israel.

At issue in the case is the specific obligation imposed in Arizona, but the ruling cast doubt on the constitutionality of broader government efforts to regulate boycott activity by private companies, even those that do business with the state.

“A restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott,” Humetewa wrote in her opinion in Jordahl et al v. Brnovich et al.

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A Vengeful and Shortsighted Act

Palestinians waiting to cross the border to Egypt in May. (Adel Hana/Associated Press)

New York Times Editorial, September 1, 2018

The Trump administration has offered various explanations for cutting aid to the Palestinians and stopping all contributions to the United Nations agency that supports five million Palestinian refugees: They need to learn to help themselves. Other Arabs should pay. Most of them are not really refugees and should stop claiming a right to return to what is now Israel. This will push them to the negotiating table. They’re not grateful enough.

These excuses range from petty to downright dangerous. Does Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, who is supposed to be preparing an Israeli-Palestinian “deal of the century,” really believe that slashing assistance to the Palestinians and stripping them of their status as refugees will compel them to accept whatever one-sided plan he cooks up or teach them to show proper respect for Mr. Trump?

Most important, does Mr. Trump understand or care that his administration has effectively abandoned the critical role his predecessors have tried to fulfill as peace brokers in the Middle East, while remaining Israel’s major friend and ally? Does he recognize that depriving Palestinians of any hope of outside mediation or support, and making their lives more miserable, could well lead to another round of violence?

The decision to stop all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, formally announced on Friday, goes far beyond questions of respect or negotiating tactics. It affects an agency that provides critical schooling, health, food and other services for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The United States finances about a third of the budget, or about $350 million a year. The planned cut to the agency, moreover, follows an announcement last week that the State Department is cutting $200 million in other aid to Palestinians in the West Bank, primarily intended for development and infrastructure projects.

The administration is also demanding a steep reduction in the number of Palestinians recognized as refugees, depriving them of any claim of a right to return, among the chief questions past administrations have sought to resolve through diplomacy.

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