Texas School Employee Suing Over Israel Boycott Clause
NOEL KING, HOST:
This summer, a speech pathologist at a public school in Texas got a contract. She'd worked at the school for nine years. But this year, her contract included a new addendum that she had to sign. She had to agree that she would not boycott Israel. In recent years, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel - BDS for short - has gained strength internationally. Activists say it's a pressure tactic to force Israel to end its military rule over Palestinians. Critics of the movement say it's an anti-Semitic push to delegitimize or even eliminate the Jewish state.
Several U.S. states have some kind of anti-boycott measure on the books, and there's an anti-boycott Israel act proposed in Congress as well. Texas Governor Greg Abbott says, anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally. The speech pathologist, who is Palestinian-American, says she couldn't sign that contract. So she lost the job. Now, Bahia Amawi is suing the school district and the attorney general of Texas.
BAHIA AMAWI: Good morning.
KING: You must have been aware that by not signing the addendum, you might put yourself in the position of losing your job. Was that a difficult decision for you to make?
AMAWI: Well, when I first came across it, I knew that I had to do something. And I knew that possibly, yes, that I may be risking losing my position. But what's worse is losing my principles and values and possibly being held legally liable because the contract says that the contractor must affirm that currently does not boycott or will not boycott during the time of the contract. So I do currently - if I am aware of a product that, you know, supports Israel, is made in Israel, I do not buy it. And so that for me is a conflict of interest right there, you know, conflict of the contract.
KING: How did the school fire you? How did they let you know that you would no longer be working for them?
AMAWI: So after I spoke with my speech coordinator expressing to her regarding the law, she said, you know, let me try to help you out. And let's see if we can go around this barrier. Because we have a really good relationship with her, and she needs me. I mean, it's very unique to have a speech therapist that speaks Arabic.
And so it took her time. You know, she took around two weeks almost before she got back to me. So I know she must have been working on it. And so when she returned my call, she told me, I'm really sorry, Bahia, but they will not pay you if you do not sign this law.
KING: You decided to sue the school district and the Texas attorney general. On what grounds are you suing?
AMAWI: So on violation of constitutional rights, my right to freedom of speech and right to protest.
KING: Critics of the boycott Israel movement, which has been around for several years, they say it's anti-Semitic. They say it's an attempt to undermine Israel. How do you respond to that? Is this anti-Semitism?
AMAWI: You know, the BDS, from my understanding, it is not a protest against a particular religious group. It is not a protest against a particular race. It is a protest against the aggression and against the subhuman treatment, against the illegal confiscation of lands and building a settlement under international law. Actually, many, you know, Jewish groups, they do stand with the Palestinians. So I don't call this anti-Semitism, I call it doing the right thing.
KING: May I ask you about your family? You have Palestinian roots.
AMAWI: Yes, ma'am, I am. I am Palestinian-American, so I have a lot of family still in the occupied West Bank territory. So it actually attacks me in both ways, as an American citizen and as a Palestinian-American.
KING: Are you currently working?
AMAWI: I am not because if I apply to another school district, I'm going to have the same issue.
KING: You're in Texas. It's a Texas law.
AMAWI: It's a Texas law. No matter where I apply, another district, it's going to be the same thing. That law is going to present in front of me, and I'm going to have to face it again.
KING: Are you considering moving?
AMAWI: No. No, no, no. I love Texas. I love the Texas people. It's a wonderful state. And I wouldn't run away from something. My mom always taught me, when you see something wrong, fix it. And it's been a lesson for my kids as well. And I hope they have been learning from it and seeing that you have to stand up for justice and equality for everybody.
KING: Bahia Amawi is a speech therapist in Round Rock, Texas. Thank you so much for joining us.
AMAWI: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
KING: We did reach out to the Pflugerville Independent School District for a response. They say they are, quote, "at the mercy of the state and the regulations printed into law," end quote. They say this is an issue that should be addressed at the state level. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.