Houston contractor sues Texas over state ban of Israel boycott

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Palestinian Americans, who have traded with the city of Houston for 17 years, are challenging Texas’s anti-BDS law.

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A Houston company has sued the state of Texas, saying the state’s ban on doing business with companies participating in Israel’s boycott is unconstitutional.

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A&R Engineering & Testing Inc. sued in United States District Court in Houston on October 29, arguing that Texas’s anti-boycott law violated its free speech right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A&R Engineering’s complaint, filed against the City of Houston and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, states, “Texas’ restriction approach on contracting with any boycott of Israel constitutes discrimination that is constitutionally correct in support of Palestine.” Protected from cools political advocacy.”

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A&R Engineering is owned by Russ Hassouna, a Palestinian American who has been doing business with the city of Houston for 17 years. He refused to sign a renewal of his contract with the city last month after lawyers demanded that he agree to terms prohibiting any BDS activity.

“Israel is about to take over my homeland and it is an apartheid state. It is my right and duty to boycott Israel and any product from Israel. This policy is against my constitutional right and international law,” Hasouna said in the complaint.

The Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to generate international economic pressure on Israel to change its treatment of the Palestinians. In the US, the movement is active on college campuses, echoing South Africa’s anti-apartheid boycotts in the 1980s.

Opponents of the BDS movement, who support Israel, see it as anti-Semitic and designed to destroy Israel’s economy. In 2017, the Texas legislature adopted an anti-BDS law that requires contractors, along with state and local governments, not to boycott Israel.

“Even proponents of these laws understand that these laws are clearly unconstitutional and out of step with 250 years of American history,” said Gadir Abbas, counsel for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Who is representing A&R Engineering.

“There has never been a historical analog for requiring states to pledge allegiance to their citizens to a foreign country,” Abbas told Al Jazeera.

In 2019, a federal judge in the Western District of Texas ruled the state’s anti-BDS law unconstitutional, but the decision was overturned on appeal after the state amended the law.

Abbas said, “What’s happening is out-of-the-box.” “We file a lawsuit against these clearly illegal laws and then the law is changed in ways that make it difficult for a judge to decide whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional.”

Controversy has intensified over efforts to ban the BDS movement in the US after popular ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s decided to stop selling its products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories.

New York’s Public Pension Fund announced last week with $268 billion in assets it would sell a majority of its stake in publicly held company Unilever Plc, which owns Ben & Jerry’s.

According to the Reuters news service, the New York State Common Retirement Fund owns $111 million worth of Unilever shares. A 2016 executive order by former Governor Andrew Cuomo bars the state from doing business with entities that comply with the BDS.

The American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel advocacy group, praised the New York sale of Unilever stock, saying in a statement that “boycotting Israel has consequences”.

Pension officials in New Jersey, Arizona and Florida have moved to prohibit selling shares or new purchases of stock in Unilever.

Unilever has said that the decision to withdraw from the occupied territories was made by the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s, and Unilever remains committed to its businesses in Israel. Ben & Jerry’s said it would continue sales in Israel outside settlements in the occupied territories.

In a rare criticism of Israel, a Biden administration official voiced US opposition to Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank, saying it hurts “the prospects for a two-state solution”.

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