I have written before about how the Israel lobby, alarmed by the rapid rise in support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and the declining support for Israel especially among young people and Democrats, has moved to pressure state legislatures to pass laws that punish people for any involvement in such speech and activities. Glenn Greenwald describes the case of Bahia Amawi, a children’s speech pathologist, who was denied employment in a public school district in Texas because a law in that state now contains a loyalty oath – not to the US but to Israel – that prevents the employment of anyone who takes any action that inflicts economic harm on Israel, such as supporting a boycott or even merely making a decision, as a private consumer, to not buy products made by companies in the Occupied Territories. She refused to sign the loyalty oath.
This required certification about Israel was the only one in the contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.
In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.
That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”
Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Imagine if, instead of being forced by the state to vow never to boycott Israel as a condition for continuing to work as a speech pathologist, Amawi were instead forced to pledge that she will never advocate for LGBT equality, or never will engage in activism in support of or opposition to gun rights or abortion restrictions (by joining the NRA or Planned Parenthood), or never subscribe to Vox or the Daily Caller, or will never participate in a boycott of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia due to vehement disagreement with those governments’ policies.
The tyrannical free speech denial would be self-evident and, in many of those comparable cases, the trans-ideological uproar would be instantaneous. As Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, warned: “[T]his template could be re-purposed to bar contracts with individuals or groups affiliated with or supportive of any political cause or organization — from the political Left or Right — that the majority in a legislature or the occupant of a governor’s office deemed undesirable.”
The [Texas] bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told that they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel. That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.
So [New York governor Andrew] Cuomo mandated that his own state employees boycott two other states within his own country, a boycott that by design would harm U.S. businesses, while prohibiting New York’s private citizens from supporting a similar boycott of a foreign nation upon pain of being barred from receiving contracts from the state of New York. That such a priority scheme is so pervasive — whereby boycotts aimed at U.S. businesses are permitted or even encouraged but boycotts aimed at Israeli businesses are outlawed — speaks volumes about the state of U.S. politics and free expression: none of it good.
This case has spawned a lawsuit in a federal court challenging the law on First Amendment grounds and asking that it be declared unconstitutional.
Greenwald states that 26 states have passed such laws and another 13 are considering doing so and it is not just in Republican-controlled states. Loyalty oaths are frequently used by authoritarian governments to stifle dissent. What is extraordinary is for one country to require such an oath on behalf of another country. Such is the very peculiar relationship of Israel and the US of the tail wagging the dog, where Israel benefits from vast amounts of military and other aid from the US and yet feels confident in ordering the country to do its bidding. As I have said before, the servility of top Democratic leaders to the Israel lobby is well established.
This kind of behavior, while most extreme with the US, does not apply only to the US. Israel is also demanding that the German government defund organizations and that German ministers not meet with any people that the Israel government disapproves of. As Jonathan Ofir writes:
Three years ago, in an off-the-record comment to journalists, Israeli Berlin embassy spokeswoman Adi Farjon said that Israel had no interest in full normalization of relations with Germany, and that it was an Israeli interest to maintain German guilt feelings, because without them, Israel would be “just another country as far as they’re concerned.”
“We were all in shock,” said a female journalist present at the briefing, which was also attended by the Israeli ambassador himself, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman.
So that’s what “special relationship’ means. It means that Israel can snub at German politicians, act out of protocol and call for political censorship from top to top, and the Germans need to take it lying down, because there’s the Holocaust.
What the Israeli government sees as a ‘special relationship’ with other nations is them being subservient to their demands.