Harvey-hit town ‘misinterpreted’ law, won’t require residents’ pledge to receive funds
By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP
Despite confusion and earlier reports, residents of a Houston suburb aren’t required to support Israel in order to apply for relief grants in their recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey.
It had been widely reported those looking for hurricane relief would have to make a pledge not to boycott Israel or risk being ineligible for aid. After clarification from state lawmakers, that has become a non-issue.
The town of Dickinson, with close to 19,000 residents, was among the hardest hit by the storms in August. As the relief effort started in early October, recent anti-BDS legislation was unnecessarily dragged into the conversation, according to Representative Phil King, who sponsored House Bill 89 before it was signed into law back in May.
“I think that some people were trying to make an issue of it,” King told the TJP. “And it really wasn’t an issue to anyone that was actually involved in the process.”
The city opened a grant process Oct. 11 for residents looking to rebuild their homes ravaged by the storm. In the initial grant process there was a clause in the form that read:
“By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”
That clause has since been removed, but it’s still being used as a talking point by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been adamantly fighting anti-BDS legislation for months as unconstitutional and claiming it violates the First Amendment.
Defenders of the law said this is much ado about nothing, especially since it didn’t apply to the situation in Dickinson. The law prohibits the state of Texas from conducting business with companies in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement against Israel. It doesn’t have anything to do with individuals looking for relief grants.
The legislation also goes to great lengths to define “company” as not applying to an individual. It lists six specific government “entities” that are required not to do business with the targeted companies: five retirement systems and the school fund. Dickinson’s grant program, with funds raised from private individuals, would not qualify.
Essentially, officials in Dickinson were trying to do their due diligence with a new law and misunderstood the legislation.
“The simple situation is it’s not unusual for when a new law rolls out — and this one just rolled out Sept. 1, almost in the midst of the hurricane — and it’s not uncommon for there to be some confusion when a new statute comes into play, especially one as sensitive as this,” King said.
While it’s led to some lengthy and explanatory phone calls for King, he said the situation in Dickinson has shown that the people of Texas are taking the proper anti-BDS legislation seriously.
“The good news is that even in the midst of hurricane recovery they thought they were aware of it and they thought they had been responding as the law required,” King said. “So I guess it’s encouraging that the knowledge of that statute has been communicated throughout the state.”
Overall, it’s an interesting time for anti-BDS legislation on a national scale. Right now 22 states have some form of legislation, and there are movements in other states to adopt similar laws. The big-picture plan is for a national law, but events like Dickinson and a recent case in Kansas, where a teacher trainer who supports a boycott of Israel is refusing to sign a state contract, have created some headaches for that long-term plan.
“We learn from every instance and while there are some bumps here and there, we’ve gone about this the right way,” said Charles Pulman, a Dallas attorney and one of the bill’s early advocates in Texas.
“There was some confusion in this situation, but it really was a non-issue and we’re very happy with the legislation.”