The Pledge to Serve Israel Oath Sweeping America

Victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told that they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel.

*Recently I found out from a Palestinian-American  father that his child’s school, (not sure if it was kindergarten or preschool) celebrated the Jewish holiday Hanukah. When he walked into his child’s class, he found a Jewish collage of Jewish symbols up on the wall, one a star of David with the children’s portrait inside the star! The wall art was all in blue and white Israel flag colors. Imagine! Of course he was aghast, as my Christian mother would have been, as I would have been. He took his son’s photo down. To me, this is a really bad bad sign. Parents, pay attention, this is a form of mind control! Along with the gender reorientation program going on in the schools.*

Bravo to Glen Greenwald for this report

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.

First they destroyed Europe to create a new world order. Now they are destroying the Arab world to create a new world order. And they are destroying America by usurpation.

Pence vows US loyalty to Israel during AIPAC speech

“New World Order” Pledged to World Jewry in 1940

But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:

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That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled territory”). The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

Whatever one’s own views are, boycotting Israel to stop its occupation is a global political movement modeled on the 1980s boycott aimed at South Africa that helped end that country’s system of racial apartheid. It has become so mainstream that two newly elected members of the U.S. Congress explicitly support it, while boycotting Israeli companies in the occupied territories has long been advocated in mainstream venues by Jewish Zionist groups such as Peace Now and the Jewish-American Zionist writer Peter Beinart.

This required certification about Israel was the only one in the contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.

In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.

That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”

Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decadeslong occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

“Maccabee Task Force to ensure that those who seek to delegitimize Israel and demonize the Jewish people are confronted, combated and defeated.”

Amawi, as the mother of four young children and a professional speech pathologist, is not a leader of any political movements: She has simply made the consumer choice to support the boycott by avoiding the purchase of products from Israeli companies in Israel or the occupied West Bank. She also occasionally participates in peaceful activism in defense of Palestinian self-determination that includes advocacy of the global boycott to end the Israeli occupation.

When asked if she considered signing the pledge to preserve her ability to work, Amawi told The Intercept: “Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus, become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.”

As a result, Amawi informed her school district supervisor that she could not sign the oath. As her complaint against the school district explains, she “ask[ed] why her personal political stances [about Israel and Palestine] impacted her work as a speech language pathologist.”

In response, Amawi’s supervisor promised that she would investigate whether there were any ways around this barrier. But the supervisor ultimately told Amawi that there were no alternatives: Either she would have to sign the oath, or the district would be legally barred from paying her under any type of contract.

Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their conditions and treatment needs.

“I got my master’s in this field and devoted myself to this work because I always wanted to do service for children,” Amawi said. “It’s vital that early-age assessments of possible speech impairments or psychological conditions be administered by those who understand the child’s first language.”

In other words, Texas’s Israel loyalty oath requirement victimizes not just Amawi, an American who is barred from working in the professional field to which she has devoted her adult life, but also the young children in need of her expertise and experience that she has spent years developing.

The anti-BDS Israel oath was included in Amawi’s contract papers due to an Israel-specific state law enacted on May 2, 2017, by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law two days later by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill unanimously passed the lower House by a vote of 131-0, and then the Senate by a vote of 25-4.

When Abbott signed the bill in a ceremony held at the Austin Jewish Community Center, he proclaimed: “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told that they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel. That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.

The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas state Rep. Phil King, said at the time that its application to hurricane relief was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.

At the time that Texas enacted the law barring contractors from supporting a boycott of Israel, it was the 17th state in the country to do so. As of now, 26 states have enacted such laws — including blue states run by Democrats such as New York, California, and New Jersey — while similar bills are pending in another 13 states.

This map compiled by Palestine Legal shows how pervasive various forms of Israel loyalty oath requirements have become in the U.S.; the states in red are ones where such laws are already enacted, while the states in the darker shade are ones where such bills are pending:

The vast majority of American citizens are therefore now officially barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without incurring some form of sanction or limitation imposed by their state. And the relatively few Americans who are still free to form views on this hotly contested political debate without being officially punished are in danger of losing that freedom, as more and more states are poised to enact similar censorship schemes.

One of the first states to impose such repressive restrictions on free expression was New York. In 2016, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing all agencies under his control to terminate any and all business with companies or organizations that support a boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you,” Cuomo proudly tweeted, referring to a Washington Post op-ed he wrote that touted that threat in its headline.

As The Intercept reported at the time, Cuomo’s order “requires that one of his commissioners compile ‘a list of institutions and companies’ that — ‘either directly or through a parent or subsidiary’ — support a boycott. That government list is then posted publicly, and the burden falls on [the accused boycotters] to prove to the state that they do not, in fact, support such a boycott.”

Like the Texas law, Cuomo’s Israel order reads like a parody of the McCarthy era:

What made Cuomo’s censorship directive particularly stunning was that, just two months prior to issuing this decree, he ordered New York state agencies to boycott North Carolina in protest of that state’s anti-LGBT law. Two years earlier, Cuomo banned New York state employees from all nonessential travel to Indiana to boycott that state’s enactment of an anti-LGBT law.

So Cuomo mandated that his own state employees boycott two other states within his own country, a boycott that by design would harm U.S. businesses, while prohibiting New York’s private citizens from supporting a similar boycott of a foreign nation upon pain of being barred from receiving contracts from the state of New York. That such a priority scheme is so pervasive — whereby boycotts aimed at U.S. businesses are permitted or even encouraged, but boycotts aimed at Israeli businesses are outlawed — speaks volumes about the state of U.S. politics and free expression, none of it good.

America’s Phony War

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Blitzkrieg Overseas, Sitzkrieg in the Homeland
By William J. Astore

Overseas, the United States is engaged in real wars in which bombs are dropped, missiles are launched, and people (generally not Americans) are killed, wounded, uprooted, and displaced. Yet here at home, there’s nothing real about those wars.  Here, it’s phony war all the way. In the last 17 years of “forever war,” this nation hasn’t for one second been mobilized. Taxes are being cut instead of raised.  Wartime rationing is a faint memory from the World War II era.  No one is being required to sacrifice a thing.

Now, ask yourself a simple question: What sort of war requires no sacrifice?  What sort of war requires that almost no one in the country waging it take the slightest notice of it?
America’s conflicts in distant lands rumble on, even as individual attacks flash like lightning in our news feeds.  “Shock and awe” campaigns in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, initially celebrated as decisive and game changing, ultimately led nowhere.

Various “surges” produced much sound and fury, but missions were left decidedly unaccomplished.  More recent strikes by the Trump administration against a Syrian air base or the first use of the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the MOAB super-bomb, in Afghanistan flared brightly, only to fizzle even more quickly.

These versions of the German blitzkrieg-style attacks of World War II have been lightning assaults that promised much but in the end delivered little.  As these flashes of violence send America’s enemies of the moment (and nearby civilians) to early graves, the homeland (that’s us) slumbers.  Sounds of war, if heard at all, come from TV or video screens or Hollywood films in local multiplexes.
We are, in fact, kept isolated from Washington’s wars, even as America’s warriors traverse a remarkable expanse of the globe, from the Philippines through the Greater Middle East deep into Africa.  As conflicts flare and sputter, ramp up and down and up again, Americans have been placed in a form of behavioral lockdown.  Little more is expected of us than to be taxpaying spectators or, when it comes to the U.S. military, starry-eyed cheerleaders.  Most of the time, those conflicts are not just out of sight, but meant to be out of mind as well.

Rare exceptions are moments when our government asks us to mourn U.S. service members like Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, killed in an abortive raid President Trump ordered in Yemen in early 2017 in which children also died (though that was something just about no one here even noticed).  While the military has been deploying and striking on a global scale, we’ve been told from the very first moments of Washington’s self-proclaimed war on terror to go shopping or to Disney World and let the experts handle it.

We have, in short, been sidelined in what, to draw on the lexicon of World War II, might be thought of as a sitzkrieg, the German term for phony war.

A bizarre version of blitzkrieg overseas and an even stranger version of sitzkrieg at home could be said to define this peculiar American moment.  These two versions exist in a curiously yin-yang relationship to each other.  For how can a nation’s military be engaged in warfare at a near-global level — blitzing people across vast swaths of the globe — when its citizens are sitting on their collective duffs, demobilized and mentally disarmed?  Such a schizoid state of mind can exist only when it’s in the interest of those in power.

Appeals to “patriotism” (especially to revering “our” troops) and an overwhelming atmosphere of secrecy to preserve American “safety” and “security” have been remarkably effective in controlling and stifling interest in the country’s wars and their costs, long before such an interest might morph into dissent or opposition.  If you want an image of just how effective this has been, recall the moment in July 2016 when small numbers of earnest war protesters quite literally had the lights turned off on them at the Democratic National Convention.

To use an expression I heard more than a few times in my years in the military, when it comes to its wars, the government treats the people like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.

The Fog of Phony War

Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously spoke of the “fog of war,” the confusion created by and inherent uncertainty built into that complex human endeavor.  As thick as that fog often is, in these years the fog of phony war has proven even thicker and more disorienting.

By its very nature, a real war of necessity, of survival, like the Civil War or World War II brings with it clarity of purpose and a demand for results.  Poorly performing leaders are relieved of command when not killed outright in combat.  Consider the number of mediocre Union generals Abraham Lincoln cycled through before he found Ulysses S. Grant.

Consider the number of senior officers relieved during World War II by General George C. Marshall, who knew that, in a global struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, subpar performances couldn’t be tolerated.  In wars of necessity or survival, moreover, the people are invariably involved.  In part, they may have little choice, but they also know (or at least believe they know) “why we fight” — and generally approve of it.

Admittedly, even in wars of necessity there are always those who will find ways to duck service. In the Civil War, for example, the rich could pay others to fight in their place.  But typically in such wars, everyone serves in some capacity. Necessity demands it.

The definition of twenty-first-century phony war, on the other hand, is its lack of clarity, its lack of purpose, its lack of any true imperative for national survival (despite a never-ending hysteria over the “terrorist threat”).  The fog it produces is especially disorienting.  Americans today have little idea “why we fight” other than a vague sense of fighting them over there (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, etc.) so they won’t kill us here, to cite George W. Bush’s rationale for launching the war on terror.

Meanwhile, with such a lack of national involvement and accountability, there’s no pressure for the Pentagon or the rest of the national security state to up its game; there’s no one even to point out that wherever the U.S. military has gone into battle in these years, yet more terror groups have subsequently sprouted like so many malignant weeds.  Bureaucracy and mediocrity go unchallenged; massive boosts in military spending reward incompetency and the creation of a series of quagmire-like “generational” wars.

Think of it as war on a Möbius strip.  More money shoveled into the Pentagon brings more chaos overseas, more imperial overreach, and undoubtedly more blowback here at home, all witnessed — or rather largely ignored — by a sitzkrieg citizenry.

Of course, for those fighting the wars, they are anything but phony.  It’s just that their experience remains largely isolated from that of the rest of us, an isolation that only serves to elevate post-traumatic stress disorder rates, suicides, and the like.  When today’s troops come home, they generally suffer in silence and among themselves.

America’s New (Phony) National Defense Strategy

Even phony wars need enemies.  In fact, they may need them more (and more of them) than real wars do.  No surprise then that the Trump administration’s recently announced National Defense Strategy (NDS) offers a laundry list of such enemies.  China and Russia top it as “revisionist powers” looking to reverse America’s putative victory over Communism in the Cold War.

“Rogue” powers like North Korea and Iran are singled out as especially dangerous because of their nuclear ambitions.  (The United States, of course, doesn’t have a “rogue” bone in its body, even if it is now devoting at least $1.2 trillion to building a new generation of more usable nuclear weapons.)  Nor does the NDS neglect Washington’s need to hammer away at global terrorists until the end of time or to extend “full-spectrum dominance” not just to the traditional realms of combat (land, sea, and air) but also to space and cyberspace.

Amid such a plethora of enemies, only one thing is missing in America’s new defense strategy, the very thing that’s been missing all these years, that makes twenty-first-century American war so phony: any sense of national mobilization and shared sacrifice (or its opposite, antiwar resistance).  If the United States truly faces all these existential threats to our democracy and our way of life, what are we doing frittering away more than $45 billion annually in a quagmire war in Afghanistan?  What are we doing spending staggering sums on exotic weaponry like the F-35 jet fighter (total projected program cost: $1.45 trillion) when we have far more pressing national needs to deal with?

Like so much else in Washington in these years, the NDS doesn’t represent a strategy for real war, only a call for more of the same raised to a higher power.  That mainly means more money for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and related “defense” agencies, facilitating more blitz attacks on various enemies overseas.  The formula — serial blitzkrieg abroad, serial sitzkrieg in the homeland — adds up to victory, but only for the military-industrial complex.

Solutions to Sitzkrieg

Of course, one solution to phony war would be to engage in real war, but for that the famed American way of life would actually have to be endangered.  (By Afghans?  Syrians? Iraqis? Yemenis?  Really?)  Congress would then have to declare war; the public would have to be mobilized, a draft undoubtedly reinstated, and taxes raised.  And those would be just for starters.  A clear strategy would have to be defined and losing generals demoted or dismissed.

Who could imagine such an approach when it comes to America’s forever wars?  Another solution to phony war would be for the American people to actually start paying attention.  The Pentagon would then have to be starved of funds. (With less money, admirals and generals might actually have to think.)  All those attacks overseas that blitzed innocents and spread chaos would have to end.  Here at home, the cheerleaders would have to put down the pom-poms, stop mindlessly praising the troops for their service, and pick up a few protest signs.

In point of fact, America’s all-too-real wars overseas aren’t likely to end until the phony war here at home is dispatched to oblivion.

A final thought: Americans tell pollsters that, after all these years of failed wars abroad, they continue to trust the military more than any other societal institution.  Consistent with phony war, however, much of that trust is based on ignorance, on not really knowing what that military is doing overseas.  So, is there a chance that, one of these days, Americans might actually begin to pay some attention to “their” wars?  And if so, would those polls begin to change and how might that military, which has experienced its share of blood, sweat, and tears, respond to such a loss of societal prestige?  Beware the anger of the legions.

Faith in institutions undergirds democracy.  Keeping the people deliberately demobilized and in the dark about the costs and carnage of America’s wars follows a pattern of governmental lying and deceit that stretches from the Vietnam War to the Iraq Wars of 1991 and 2003, to military operations in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere today.  Systemic lies and the phony war that goes with them continue to contribute to a slow-motion process of political and social disintegration that could result in a much grimmer future for this country: perhaps an authoritarian one; certainly, a more chaotic and less democratic one.

Societal degradation and democratic implosion, caused in part by endless phony war and the lies associated with it, are this country’s real existential enemies, even if you can’t find them listed in any National Defense Strategy.  Indeed, the price tag for America’s wars may in the end prove not just heavy but catastrophic.