Judge temporarily blocks enforcement of Texas law banning contractors from boycotting Israel

The order came in a case brought by a Pflugerville school speech pathologist who was told she could only continue her contract work if she promised not to boycott Israel.

Bahia Amawi, a contractor with the Pflugerville ISD, sued after she was told she must sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to continue working for the district.
Bahia Amawi, a contractor with the Pflugerville ISD, sued after she was told she must sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to continue working for the district.  Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

* This story was updated Friday with a statement from the Texas Attorney General's Office.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a state law that prohibits government agencies in Texas from doing business with contractors who are boycotting Israel.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued an injunction Thursday against the law, saying it threatens to suppress unpopular ideas and manipulates “the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”

"This the First Amendment does not allow," he wrote.

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The order came in a case brought by Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist who was told she could only continue her contract work with Pflugerville ISD if she promised not to boycott Israel. Amawi, who conducted bilingual and early childhood evaluations for the district, refused to sign the addendum to her contract. As a result, she was told that she couldn't be paid, and the district terminated her contract on Sept. 17. She sued in December.

“This is a complete victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine,” said Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed suit on Amawi's behalf. “More importantly, it’s a complete victory for all Texans, to engage in political speech without government censorship.”

The order will stand while litigation proceeds in the case.

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Texas has had the anti-boycott law regarding Israel on its books since 2017. It prohibits all state agencies from signing contracts with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel. When he signed the bill into law, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed Israel an important ally.

"Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies," he wrote at the time.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, which is defending the law and Pflugerville ISD in the case, said Friday that it would appeal the judge's order.

"We're disappointed with the ruling essentially requiring government to do business with discriminatory companies," said Marc Rylander, communications director for the attorney general's office.