In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many Texan families and businesses need money to rebuild their lives. A suburb outside of Houston is offering the necessary aid through government grants, but there is a catch: anyone who takes the money must promise not to boycott Israel.
Residents in Dickinson, Texas who are seeking monetary aid must complete a three-page grant application. Section 11 of the application states that applicants, acting as independent contractors, must verify that they do not and will not boycott Israel while they are receiving the grant.
Many of the 20,000 residents could be affected by this condition, as Hurricane Harvey damaged the property of 7,000 homes and 88 businesses, according to local police reports.
By tying residents’ political expression to eligibility for financial aid, the clause implicitly restricts their First Amendment rights. In regards to the legality of the condition, the American Civil Liberties Union said, “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,” in a statement made on Thursday.
Surprisingly, Dickinson mayor Julie Masters seemed aware of the issue. Masters said that she thought “God, this [Israel boycott clause] kind of feels like it’s infringing on free speech” in an interview with The Huffington Post. However, city officials argue that they were following state law.
According to NPR, Gov. Greg Abbott signed H.B. 89 in May targeting companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel. “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally,” said Abbott at the bill’s signing.
However, it is unclear how the Texas law relates to hurricane relief. Rep. Phil King, the creator of H.B. 89, said that the law was meant to apply exclusively to companies. “What could they possibly be thinking?” King said in an interview with NPR regarding Dickinson’s decision.
The application of the H.B. 89 also does not make sense when one considers the source of the money. The governor’s website also says the law ensures “certain public funds are not invested in any entities participating in this movement,” yet the grant application states that the grant program is funded through donations. “Those are not taxpayer dollars, so they have nothing to do with the anti-BDS legislation,” said King.
No other city in Texas is known to have tied support of Israel with hurricane relief. Other cities such as Austin, Galveston and San Antonio have mandated independent contractors not support the BDS Movement. Several states have passed laws against the BDS Movement, as Israel creates settlements on Palestinian territory. Congress is currently considering legislation to ban anti-Israel boycotts.