Residents of one city in the US state of Texas are being asked to sign a loyalty oath to Israel if they want to receive funds for Hurricane Harvey relief, an approach that civil liberties experts say is illegal.
The city of Dickinson, a suburb of Houston, is requiring residents to sign a no-boycott pledge in order to receive disaster aid to recover from Harvey, a devastating hurricane that made landfall in August.
David Olson, an attorney for Dickinson, said city officials are following a Texas law that prohibits state agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel.
The so-called Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) law was signed in May by Texas Governor Gregg Abbott and took effect on September 1.
It was not immediately clear why citizens applying for disaster relief would be subject to a law that applies to state agencies and businesses.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sharply criticized the provision on Friday, calling it a violation of free speech rights.
“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,” ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in a statement.
“Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”
The ACLU has pushed back on anti-BDS measures, filing a lawsuit earlier this month challenging anti-BDS legislation in Kansas.
The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations to initiate “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
Thousands of volunteers worldwide have joined the BDS to help promote the Palestinian cause, including scores of international trade unions, NGOs, scientific institutions, academic societies, business associations and cultural figures.
The BDS campaign is also gaining momentum on US college campuses and churches.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his subordinates have called the BDS campaign a new form of terrorism against the Israeli regime.
Supporters of the movement, including a growing number of American Jews, have called such criticism a fear-mongering and divisive tactic meant to prevent legitimate debate about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.