Texans devastated by Hurricane Harvey now have to show allegiance to federal government's commitment to suppressing a debate when they apply for aid.
In the city of Dickinson, applicants will have to sign a contract saying they will not boycott Israel when they apply for Hurricane Harvey Relief Grant. The particular clause under question states "the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement."
Dickinson was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey two months ago. The Repair Grant offers financial aid to contractors trying to rebuild the city, but only if they agree to stand by the government’s stance on supporting Israel.
Bryan Milward, a management assistant for Dickinson, told Al Jazeera the application functions as a contract and will therefore has to abide by Texas laws.
The law being referred to was passed earlier this year to stem the rise of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that uses nonviolent methods to put economic strain on Israel.
Colloquially known as the anti-BDS bill, the law states that no Texas state agency can contract a business that boycotts Israel. So far, 21 states across the United States have enacted laws against the movement they say alienates an important “ally."
However, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, the contract infringes upon constitutional rights.
"It is flatly unconstitutional, and morally outrageous, for the government to impose political litmus tests on access to disaster relief funds," ACLU representative Brian Hauss said in a statement. "In short, the Texas law being enforced by the City of Dickinson — as well as other cities throughout Texas, including Galveston, Austin and San Antonio — is leveraging vital government funds to suppress one side of a prominent public debate."
Texas is not the only state to make the government’s compassion toward hurricane victims contingent upon their political beliefs.
In Kansas, the ACLU is taking the state to court over a contract a teacher had to sign so she could use a state-funded program to train other teachers. As in Texas, the Kansas contract said participants couldn't boycott Israel. The teacher, Esther Koontz, did not sign the contract due to her religious beliefs, and was denied funding.
As the organization pointed out, the Supreme Court in 1982 ruled the government cannot put a stop to any “non-violent, politically motivated boycott designed to force governmental and economic change."
It seems maintaining strong alliance with Israel, an apartheid state known for its human rights violations, is more important for the Trump administration than helping the people of its own country.
"This type of anti-BDS legislation is something we've been tracking for some time and we are aware of," Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Al Jazeera. "People that want to help rebuild areas that were devastated by natural disasters have to pass a litmus test on their thoughts on the Middle East. ... Even for someone like myself, who is aware to this type of legislation, it's shocking to see it be applied to hurricane relief."
It's shocking, indeed, but not entirely surprising given President Donald Trump's general attitude toward hurricane victims.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Richard Carson