Texas city says no hurricane aid if you boycott Israel

A volunteer helps clean up the damage at a Lutheran church in Dickinson Texas

A volunteer helps clean up the damage at a Lutheran church in Dickinson Texas

Although the hurricane devastated the entire Houston metro area with record rainfall and destructive flooding, a local television news station reported in early September that "damage in Dickinson may be the worst of Harvey", with more than 7,000 homes and 88 businesses "significantly damaged".

Generally, the requirements outlined in Dickinson's Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant Application and Agreement are predictable: Applicants must agree to follow building codes and get necessary permits, and to use distributed funds exclusively for their agreed-upon project. The State of Texas did pass a law forbidding the state from employing contractors who boycott Israel, but the city's form makes no indication that this is an extension of this law.

Surrounding cities hit by Harvey do not ask for a similar stipulation, according to Middle East Eye, and Kallinen said he is unaware of other municipalities requiring a like-minded clause.

"It is flatly unconstitutional, and morally outrageous, for the government to impose political litmus tests on access to disaster relief funds", ACLU representative Brian Hauss said in a statement.

But in order to be accepted for a grant to fix one's home or business in the south Texas suburb, one has to agree not to boycott Israel.

"Dickinson's requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of "subversive" activity". The law, known as the Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) bill, got signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May.

However, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out, the contract infringes upon constitutional rights.

Because the Texas law was enacted recently, it is not yet clear how the state or cities will enforce the anti-BDS measure.

"In short, the Texas law being enforced by the City of Dickinson - as well as other cities throughout Texas, including Galveston, Austin and San Antonio - is leveraging vital government funds to suppress one side of a prominent public debate". Accordingly, the state declined to contract her. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that such political boycotts were a form of free expression and association and thus protected by the First Amendment.

The application contains a provision that requires applicants to agree to verification that they will not Boycott Israel, a country "guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people", according to a now redacted report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

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