US citizen Bahia Amawi is a language specialist who works with autistic and speech-impaired children. She received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties . For the last nine years she has worked with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school children in Austin, Texas. Each year she signed an annual contract that allowed her to continue.
But now she has been told that she is fired!
WHAT HAS SHE DONE?
The school district has added a new clause to the contract, requiring teachers and other employees to pledge not to boycott Israel “during the term of their contract”. Bahia Amawi refused to sign what amounts to an oath :
Quoting Glenn Greenwald,
“ vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise take any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation.”
‘The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”
The “oath” is now part of the Texas Government Code.
The teacher said that she could not honestly sign the oath because she and her family have made the decision to refuse to purchase goods from Israel or the occupied West Bank. She herself is not a leader of any political movement but she has occasionally attended meetings promoting the global BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement calling for the end of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
It sounds weird doesn’t it, firing an experienced language therapy specialist who works with small children. She is being punished but so are the children from 3 to 11 year old, she helps.
The mother of 4 US born childen, Bahia Amawi, born in Austria, has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years. She fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic). The school district she has worked in has a growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. Wouldn’t you think that the district school officials would be determined to hold on to her?
But don’t blame them. The Texas law, carefully worded to prevent loopholes, has tied their hands.
But wait , there is more.
In the Texan town of Dickinson, devastated by hurricane Harvey in 2017 , hurricane victims had to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel, in exchange for life-saving humanitarian aid.
Texas! There must be something weird about Texas! The US champions free speech doesn’t it? It’s in the American Constitution!
No, it’s not just Texas. Other states have passed or are working on anti-boycott Israel legislation.
If the US political scene today resembles Orwellian 1984, then who is Big Brother?
It’s multi-billionaire Las Vegas gambling mogul, Sheldon Adelson. He has set up a ‘Maccabee Task Force’ , raising millions to pressure influential legal , media, academic, political Americans to oppose supporters of BDS.
Journalist Ramzy Baroud has commented,
“But this is the sad state of democracy in the US at the moment, where the interests of a relatively small, distant country are made the centerpiece of US government policies, at home or abroad.
Israel’s wealthy supporters are working hand in hand with Israel’s influential lobby groups in Washington DC, but also at state, and even city levels to make the boycott of Israel punishable by law.
Many US politicians are answering the unreasonable lobby call of criminalizing political dissent throughout the country. While in reality many of them couldn’t care less or even truly understand the nature of the debate concerning BDS, they are willing to go the extra mile (as in violating the sanctity of their own democratic system) to win lobby favors or to, at least avoid their wrath.”
We assume that such a situation would never happen here in New Zealand. Kiwis are free to speak in support of BDS of Israel, aren ‘t we?
But do our political leaders have to go to Washington and make speeches about our ‘shared values’? I’m thinking of Winston Peters’ recent jaunt there. ‘Shared values’ from a political leader means ‘shared values’ at the political elite level, the regime level.
At a grass roots level, who do we Kiwis ‘share values’ with?
How about with Bahia Amawi !
Lois Griffiths is a human rights activist