Opinion

If They Come to Boycott You, Fire Them First

The Netanyahu government’s ‘diplomatic achievement’ in getting U.S. states to bar public employees from supporting a boycott of Israel is backfiring badly

Texas speech pathologist Bahia Amawi.
From The intercept

The Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu is playing with anti-Semitic fire. And anyone who plays with fire gets burned. There’s no delicate way of warning the Jews in the world from the dangers the government is exposing them to, except perhaps to scream at the government: Have you lost your mind?

A children’s speech pathologist in Texas was fired because she refused to sign a contract that required her to pledge that she does not and will not boycott Israel or support boycotting products from West Bank settlements. This is no conspiracy theory from a new edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or a new anti-Semitic cartoon posted by Yair Netanyahu. This really happened and was first reported on The Intercept site.

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American citizen Bahia Amawi had been employed for nine years as a speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, where she worked with children ages 3-11 with special needs – autistic children and students with language difficulties. In each of the nine years she signed an employment contract, until this year, when a new, irregular clause appeared in the contract requiring her to pledge that she “does not currently boycott Israel” and “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.”

This is not an independent political whim of an evangelical employer captivated by the charm of Judea and Samaria’s rocky hills. This is a diplomatic “achievement” of Netanyahu’s government. The clause forbidding support for boycotting Israel appeared in the contract following a law signed last year by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, forbidding public employees in Texas to support a boycott on Israel.

Netanyahu’s Israel gives a broad – positively virtuoso – interpretation to the command “if someone comes to kill you, kill him first.” From now on if someone comes to work with autistic 3-year-olds in Texas, fire him first. Similar laws exist in 26 U.S. states.

Israel’s government has volunteered to provide free public relations to the boycott movement. It is making diplomatic efforts to ensure there will be no speech pathologist, road builder, fire fighter, policeman or public school teacher anywhere in the world who can’t be reached by Israel’s long legal arm, who won’t know of the Israeli occupation. Israel also insists on marking itself as a pariah state and seems to aspire to appearing in every contract between any two parties in the world, like a disturbed child who needs special consideration.

We must exercise a basic capacity for empathy, on the very level of survival, and put ourselves for one moment in the other’s place, to understand the extent of damage caused by such a combative, destructive legal action. Imagine Michal Michaeli, a social worker in the Be’er Sheva municipality’s social affairs department, who is required to sign, as a condition for her continued employment, that in her free time she won’t support violations of the international sanctions against Russia due to the Crimea annexation, for example. If there was any chance that a speech pathologist from Texas would object to the settlement boycott, or at the most ignore it, this clause made sure it no longer exists. How can you not support the boycott on Israel and, heaven forbid, do worse than that, after being fired from work because you refused to accept political hush money?

The speech pathologist filed suit against the law and on Wednesday the American Civil Liberties Union announced it has filed similar lawsuits on behalf of four other Texas citizens. “The state cannot use the contracting process as an ideological litmus test or to tell people what kind of causes they may or may not support,” the ACLU said in its statement.

We can rely on the Americans to find a way to remove this stain from their law books. Already last year a federal court in Kansas ruled that a similar law was unconstitutional and a federal court in Arizona blocked such a law. But who will make sure to remove the Netanyahu government’s fingerprints?