Activists link ban on Israel boycott to suppression of ‘movement for Palestinian human rights’.

A contract for government disaster aid that links assistance to support for Israel is causing widespread controversy as residents recover from one the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit Texas.

Less than two months after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city of Dickinson, southeast of Houston, the local authority is insisting that anyone who receives relief should confirm that they are not boycotting Israel.

Approximately 50 percent of homes in the city were totally destroyed and around 7,000 damaged when Harvey made landfall and stalled for days above southern Texas in late August.

Amid the devastation, the city’s boycott certification requirement has struck a chord among those campaigning for a boycott of Israeli goods over its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said the tying of hurricane relief to support for Israel illustrated the power of the boycott campaign.

“It’s a testament to the impact of the nonviolent BDS movement that its detractors will sink to such coercive, McCarthyite tactics to undermine its impressive achievements in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” he told Anadolu Agency in a statement.

“It is also a shameful, inhumane and unethical attempt to exploit vulnerable people to suppress a movement for Palestinian human rights.”

McCarthyism refers to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt in the 1950s.

The worldwide BDS movement seeks to end international support for Israel, following a similar campaign that helped end the apartheid system in South Africa.

As it grows, pressure has increased on U.S. officials to censure and outlaw support for BDS.

- Promise not to boycott

Section 11 of the Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant Application and Agreement, simply titled, “Verification not to Boycott Israel” stipulates that those applying for aid “verifies” that the applicant “does not boycott Israel; and… will not boycott Israel during the term of this agreement”.

The article follows the implementation in September of a law in Texas that prohibits anyone who supports BDS from doing business with the state or its cities.

Texas is the state that trades the most with Israel.

Signing the anti-BDS bill, Governor Greg Abbott said that “anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”

None of the members of Dickinson City Council contacted by Anadolu Agency responded to a request for comment.

However, Mayor Julie Masters appeared to distance herself from the controversial section in remarks to other media outlets.

“Please don’t crucify the messenger, the City of Dickinson is only following state law,” she said.

A city official confirmed to Anadolu Agency the requirement not to boycott Israel is due to the state law, known as House Bill 89.

However, the law has come under fire from a wide group of rights advocates.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the boycott ban requirement as an “egregious violation” of free speech.

Andre Segura, the group’s Texas legal director, said in a statement that the constitution “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”.

- Free speech

The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1982 that boycotts are a form of protected free speech.

The ACLU is currently suing Kansas over the requirement that teachers cannot boycott Israel. In July, the group urged Congress to oppose a bill that would make some support for BDS a felony.

That bill has stalled in the Senate, where legislators are seeking to amend key components.

However, the opposition to BDS is taken as a sign that it is increasingly gaining traction in the U.S. and abroad.

The hurricane relief agreement was “part of escalating, global, right-wing efforts to shut down movements working to secure real equality and basic human rights,” Leyli Yousef, a BDS National Committee spokeswoman, said.

She said it was also “a testament to how low supporters of Israeli apartheid will go to try to obstruct a BDS movement that is growing in popular support around the world.”

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order Monday that requires firms seeking to do business with the state to vow they will not support BDS.

Following Hogan’s action, 22 states now have anti-BDS laws on the books, according to Rahul Saksena, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal, an organization that seeks to defend the rights of Palestinian activists.

Saksena told Anadolu Agency that growing opposition to BDS was a sign of the movement’s growing popularity.

“All of these laws are unconstitutional,” he said. “They are ripe for legal challenge.”

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