Want Hurricane Relief? Pledge Allegiance–To Israel (Video)

The state of Texas is promising residents of Dickinson funds to help them recover from the disastrous effects of last month’s hurricane Harvey.

But there’s a caveat.

In exchange for relief, residents must vow never to speak out against Israel.

According to the grant application on the Dickinson Harvey Relief fund website, applicants must forego their first-amendment rights by agreeing to the following:

“By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.” 

This is because in May, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed House Bill 89, a law targeting support for the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and advocates for Arab-Palestinian Israeli citizens’ full rights..

Of HB 89, Abbott commented:

“Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does not take a stance on boycotts, but it does support people’s right to partake in them.

ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in a statement:

The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression. 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.”

What does this have to do with Texas?

Not much.

4 percent of Texans belong to non-Christian faiths. Of those, very few are Christian Palestinians. Most Texas Christians are white, Latino, or Black.

Christian evangelicals, though, of which there are lot in Texas, have ties with Israel.

Anti-occupation U.S. Jewish organization IfNotNow member Yonah Lieberman told ThinkProgress:

“This is an exposure of the absurdity of unconditional support for Israel. This controversy should be a clear signal to why these kinds of bills—regardless of how one feels about BDS—are morally repugnant. For the sake of our shared humanity, the Texas Jewish community should step up to help the people affected by this draconian law,” Lieberman said. “The Houston Jewish Federation raised an impressive amount of money to help victims of Harvey—they should donate a portion of that money to the families in Dickinson.”

But Texas is not alone in its anti-BDS rhetoric.

A Nassau County, New York, legislator attempted to prohibit musician Roger Waters, a BDS supporter, from performing in Nassau Coliseum in September.

In March, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced  S.720 – the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, drafted with the help of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Its summary states:

“This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.”

Section four explains:

Violations Of Section 8(a).—Whoever knowingly violates or conspires to or attempts to violate any provision of section 8(a) or any regulation, order, or license issued thereunder shall be fined in accordance with section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1705).”

Section 206 of the International Economic Powers Act, says:

Ҥ1705. Penalties

(c) Criminal penalty

A person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, an unlawful act described in subsection (a) shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.”

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, rescinded her support after receiving complaints from constituents about potential first amendment infringement issues.

So, in Dickinson, Texas, you want to put your life back together after one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory? Pledge allegiance to Israel.

Image credit: thefreethoughtproject.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.