Social Distortion

Dickinson Demands People Seeking Harvey Relief Promise Not To Boycott Israel

Boycotting Texas seems to be fine, but not Israel.
Boycotting Texas seems to be fine, but not Israel. Photo by Larry Koester
Before you can receive any money from the City of Dickinson to start rebuilding your Harvey-damaged home or business, the city is going to need you to make a few promises. You'll have to follow all the building codes. You'll have to use the grant money solely for the rebuilding project.

And, lastly, you will have to promise not to boycott Israel.

"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," the application reads at the very bottom.

The small town of Dickinson is now making national news for what appears, before any context is provided, to be a totally random loyalty pledge to a foreign country that has absolutely nothing to do with Harvey recovery.  In a statement Thursday evening, the ACLU of Texas called the provision unconstitutional, comparing it to McCarthyism.

“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment," the ALCU said.

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“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,” said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura. “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.”

So here's the context: This year, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the Anti-Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions bill, which prohibits Texas arms of government from investing in or contracting with any company that boycotts Israel, and must make contractors sign the same verification included in the Dickinson grant application. Dickinson City Attorney David Olson confirmed in an interview with KTRK that this was the reason it's in there, saying the city is committed to following the law.

When Governor Abbott signed the law, he said boycotting Israel is anti-Texas.

"As Israel's No. 1 trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel and we will continue to build on our historic partnership," he said. "Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally."

The ACLU noted that the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected free speech for individuals, and governments can't force them to sign certifications promising not to do it in order to receive public benefits or contracts. Just this month, the ACLU sued in Kansas over a law requiring educators not to boycott Israel.

"While the ACLU does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries, the organization has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to laws and bills and that infringe on the right to boycott," the ACLU said.

The money the City of Dickinson is disbursing to pro-Israel flood victims comes straight from individuals, groups or businesses in the form of millions of dollars in donations.

Mayor Julie Masters was not immediately available to answer questions, though we left a message and will update this story if she gets back to us.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn