In a victory for freedom of speech advocates and a setback for conservative state leaders, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman on Thursday issued a temporary injunction on a politically charged law that bars state contract workers from boycotting Israel.
By blocking the state from enforcing the 2-year-old law, Pitman sided with Palestinian speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who lost her contract position with the Pflugerville School district in October when she refused to sign her initials on an agreement saying she does not boycott Israel and would not do so for the remainder of her contract.
Amawi, a 46-year-old mother from Round Rock, testified in Pitman’s Austin courtroom last month that she refuses to buy certain items, such as hummus and classroom toys, that are made by Israeli companies. Staring out at dozens of members of the local Muslim community, she told the court that Israel has long mistreated her family and other Palestinians and she could not in good conscience certify that she would refuse to boycott the country.
In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits governmental entities from contracting with and investing in companies that boycott Israel, the state’s fourth-leading trade partner. The law is a response to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, often referred to as BDS, that seeks to change Israeli policy toward Palestinians. In defending the constitutionality of the law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said the state had a right to boycott boycotters.