With the devastation of Hurricane Harvey along the southern coast of the United States, countless communities were forced to rebuild their lives after the storm robbed them of many of their basic human necessities.
In the Texas city of Dickinson, which was among one of the hardest-hit areas, a bill known as the “Anti-BDS Bill” was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott that had begun to come into effect early September. This bill stated that victims of Hurricane Harvey who wished to apply for a grant known as a “Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant”, must legally agree not to boycott Israel in a provision of their application.
To clarify, essentially what this new law was stating was that if you were an individual who had recently lost your home and valuables due to a destructive natural disaster and also happened to be a conscious consumer, you would be denied the help of your local government. This breach of the first amendment of the constitution—the right to free speech—was evidently punishing people—hurricane victims for that matter —for possessing a certain opinion.
However, as an American, I know that sometimes the opinions of important people trump what is considered the right thing to do. For example, somehow believing he could speak for the entire state of Texas, Gov. Abbott expressed in a news release earlier this year that, “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”
What was failed to be understood—or perhaps intentionally overlooked—on Gov. Abbott’s part though, was the fact that he was attempting to exploit a national tragedy in order to promote an Israeli agenda.
Other than the seemingly nonsensical nature of it, what was particularly ironic about the bill was the fact that the mere existence of it, according to The American Civil Liberties Union, was a “McCarthy-era loyalty-oath” style bill, suggesting its propagandic nature. Why was it necessary to suddenly bring up Israel in the middle of hurricane chaos again?
Perhaps it would have been less explicitly despicable if the aid Harvey victims were receiving consisted of Israeli products, but the “Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant” is simply money granted as part of the government’s responsibility in caring for its citizens.
Fortunately, as a result of widespread, negative media coverage and outrage from legal and civil liberties organizations across the United States, this part of the bill was removed.
As of now, the bill states that the portion remaining specifically targets companies as a blacklist for BDS-supporting companies, and it will be constantly updated and monitored. It will be used to deny them aid as well as prohibit all state agencies from contracting with or investing in them.
Regardless of the change in this bill, it is still discriminatory and further normalizes the enactment of unjust laws that promote the lies of pro-Israel lobbyists. In the last two years, at least 22 states in the US have passed laws or implemented executive orders that target BDS activism.
There is only so much that can be done, but what may be of most importance is staying true to your values and fighting for them when it becomes necessary. If no one fought for those forward-thinking hurricane victims, they might have been stuck with nothing.