Why don’t Jews realize how dangerous anti-BDS laws are?

(image: Avi Katz / Forward)
As Americans, we are committed to the First Amendment — and as Jews, we know that criticizing Israel is sometimes the most Jewish thing you can do.

By Batya Ungar-Sargon | Forward | Dec 18, 2018

The entire point of the First Amendment is to protect the speech of people we despise (you don’t need the law to protect the speech of people you like). It’s something we Americans hold dear, and something we seem to recognize as crucial to our identity in all areas but Israel. It’s nothing short of a shonda for Israel to be the one topic where Americans forget about their most dearly held values.

The movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS, is in the news this week, thanks to a harrowing tale reported in The Intercept about a Muslim speech therapist in Austin, Texas named Bahia Amawi. Amawi was told she could no longer work in the Texas public school system unless she signed an oath promising that she does not and will not boycott Israel or “an Israeli-controlled territory.”

In other words, Texas’s anti-BDS bill doesn’t only impinge on the free speech rights of a US citizen in a bizarre attempt to “stand with Israel;” it turns every potential contractor with the state of Texas into a literalization of the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty. Texas citizens are now literally more loyal to Israel than they are to the US, insofar as they may say and do things to their own country that they may not engage in vis-à-vis Israel.

There will be more cases like Amawi’s. And the choice she was presented with, to have her free speech rights suspended only when it comes to Israel and even its settlements in the West Bank — or be denied employment by the state of Texas — is a version of a choice all Americans are being presented with: Suspend your free speech when it comes to Israel, or be condemned as an anti-Semite.

It’s a choice that American Jews must be at the forefront of resisting.

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