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Posted on 21st October 2017
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The situation described in this BBC story is disgusting.
The city of Dickinson, about 30 miles (48km) south of Houston, has imposed conditions for seeking government money for repairs after the category 4 Hurricane Harvey. The conditions are that "... the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement." The city argues that they have to do this because of a Texas law, known as the Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) bill. Similar laws exist in other states.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called this "an egregious violation" of free speech rights under the First Amendment. "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".
The attempt by the city of Dickinson to make aid money conditional on not boycotting Israel is blackmail, clear and simple. Blackmail is a crime, even for government.
Also, it seems clear to me that these Anti-BDS laws are illegal, being in breach of the constitution. There is a well established process for dealing with laws that are themselves illegal, which is to break the lower-level law, and honour the higher-level law (in this case, the constitution), and if/when someone makes a legal challenge of your actions, to fight it in court, if necessary all the way to the Supreme Court. The fact that the city of Dickinson has not chosen this course, shows us that they actually approve of the Texas Anti-BDS law.
Whether or not Israel is right or wrong, and whether or not you believe that the state of Israel deserves to be boycotted, has nothing to do with this case. People have a right to hold and to express their opinions, up to and including boycotting. No-one has a right to tell the citizens of Dickinson what they are allowed to spend their money on.
An important legal principle, practised in virtually all western nations, is the separation of the legal system from government, and for very good reason. In this case, those boundaries have been crossed by the city of Dickinson, in their choice of which law to uphold, and which to break. I hope that the politicians involved are held to account, both in court and at the next election.