By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP
AUSTIN — A key step was taken last week to help make sure House Bill 89 or Senate Bill 134 will be passed during the upcoming legislative session in Texas’ capital.
More than 250 people from all races and religions descended upon Austin on Feb. 9 to advocate for the companion bill that would prohibit the use of state public funds for companies that are involved with the organization Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
BDS is a global campaign attempting to increase political and economic pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestment of investments and international sanctions. While it isn’t officially stated by BDS, one of the target goals is delegitimizing the State of Israel.
“This shows the state of Texas how important Israel is as an ally,” State Rep. Phil King, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, told a group gathered at the capitol . “When people are willing to speak up and come down and stand up for what they believe, we all take notice.”
After a morning meeting and an introduction from King, the large group spent the day meeting with representatives and their staffs to advocate for the bill. In their meetings citizens were encouraged to ask for co-sponsorship of the bill and they were asked to send photos and thoughts of their interactions to TexasHB89@gmail.com, where King’s staff was compiling information.
And it was a diverse group of people standing with Israel.
A large contingency drove down from Dallas, while Jesse Stock, who is the StandWithUs Southern Regional high school program coordinator, helped set up a bus trip for more than 35 students from the Houston area.
“This is something that these kids are passionate about, and that’s great to see,” Stock said. “This is important to them, and I think it sends a nice message to the lawmakers when young people are willing to get involved and say what they believe.”
Fourteen other states have passed similar legislation in support of Israel.
It’s typically a nonpartisan bill, and that’s expected in Texas, while there were some false complaints about the bill that it would limit First Amendment rights.
Joseph Sabag, the deputy director of the Israel Allies Foundation advocacy group, said he’s not too worried about that.
“That’s not uncommon, we’ve seen a little bit of an opposition in a number of states, but that hasn’t stopped bipartisan passage,” Sabag said. “Either way it’s important for us to make sure we are framing this in the proper way.”
Sabag said passing the legislation in Texas is going to be a key victory for American-Israeli relations, and will likely prompt other states to follow suit.
“Texas is a big state and one that people take notice when it makes a statement like this,” Sabag said. “Passing this here could go a long way for another state that isn’t sure what or how to approach this.”
And that’s why having so many people advocate for the bill was a point of pride last week.
“This is something that is important to Texas and people of all races and religions,” Joel Schwitzer, from the AJC Dallas Regional Chapter, said. “We stood together as a group, and we are going to continue to stand for Israel.”