The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston on behalf of a business that lost its contract because it refused to pledge support for Israel.
A Palestinian-owned company filed a lawsuit that challenges a law which prohibits the state of Texas from entering into business with companies that partake in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
A complaint was filed in a Houston federal court by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of Rasmy Hassouna, the owner and executive VP of A&R Engineering and Testing Inc.
Houssna’s suit appeals the law on constitutional grounds, citing that it violates the First Amendment on free speech and that boycotts constitute protected speech and expressive conduct.
Texas' Anti-BDS Act was passed in May 2019. The ruling bars all state government entities from doing business with any company that boycotts Israel during the term of a contract.
A&R, which has been contracting in Houston for over 17 years, was sent a renewal contract on October 13 to continue providing engineering services in the city.
The contract required A&R to certify that it “is not currently engaging in, and agrees for the duration of this Agreement not to engage in, the boycott of Israel as defined by Section 808.001 of the Texas Government Code.”
Hassouna refused to sign the contract, and proceeded to work with CAIR to file the lawsuit.
“Israel is an occupier of my homeland and it is an Apartheid State. It is my right and duty to boycott Israel and any products of Israel. This policy is against my constitutional right and against International Law,” the complaint cited Hassouna saying.
“I demand that you take the paragraph about Israel off from the contract.”
Hassouna asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the law while the case progresses in court.
Speaking in an online conference on Monday, Hassouna, who is originally from Gaza, said seeing the clause forcing him to pledge support for Israel conjured painful memories. “When I saw that statement, my family came in front of my face. I have brothers, I have sisters, I have nephews and nieces living back in Gaza.”
“Just a few months ago, they were under attack from the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces], and you just watched the news and so many children were killed,” he said, referring to Israel’s assault on Gaza in May that killed nearly 250 Palestinians, including over 60 children.
“The issue here is my liberty and freedom,” he added.
CAIR senior attorney Gadeir Abbas said the lawsuit is aimed at “reinvigorating the First Amendment”.
Growing push against anti-BDS laws
In recent years, public officials across the US have advanced measures to penalise and suppress BDS activity.
Anti-BDS measures have been enacted in more than 20 states as part of an effort to block the growing BDS movement, which is modeled after the global South African anti-Apartheid movement.
However, federal courts in some states have started to challenge these laws as being unconstitutional.
In 2019, CAIR won a landmark victory in a suit over the first version of the Texas law on behalf of Bahia Amawi, the Texas speech language pathologist who lost her job because she refused to sign a “No Boycott of Israel” clause.
That victory caused the state legislature to enact the new law after it was amended to allow sole proprietorships to engage in boycott action.
Earlier this year, CAIR’s Georgia chapter won a lawsuit with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of journalist Abby Martin against Georgia’s Israel boycott law after a federal district court ruled that the state’s 2016 anti-BDS law to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.