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TX Law Stands Strong Against Anti-Israel Agitators’ Demands

Austin, TX, USA - April 25, 2024: University of Texas students protest Israel's war in Gaza at a demonstration on campus
Austin, TX, USA - April 25, 2024: University of Texas students protest Israel's war in Gaza at a demonstration on campus | Image by Vic Hinterlang/Shutterstock

As anti-Israel demonstrations sweep college campuses nationwide, legal constraints are preventing universities from meeting agitators’ demands to divest from Israel in Texas.

Universities in the Lone Star State have seen their share of anti-Israel protests and encampments. Most notably, University of Texas campuses in Austin, Dallas, and Arlington have seen considerable activity, leading to the arrest of hundreds of student protesters and anti-Israel agitators.

The demonstrators’ central demand, not just in Texas but across the country, has been for their universities to divest from any financial ties with Israel. However, Texas law prohibits such a move.

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) bill into law with respect to Israel, barring state governmental entities from entering into contracts with or investing in companies that boycott Israel.

The bill was authored by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) and Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and ensures that state contracts are only given to businesses that state they will not boycott or divest from Israel during the contract. According to King, Texas’ anti-BDS bill is the strongest in the country.

“In 2016, there was this growing movement of cities, counties, states, nations, and businesses deciding they were going to boycott Israel to try to bankrupt them economically,” King explained to The Dallas Express. The growing movement led him to draft the anti-BDS law.

“Part of the reason was, Texas does a lot of business with Israel,” said King. “They’re our friend, we have a lot of tourists, and they’re one of our largest trade partners. It’s wrong to try to destroy them.”

Abbott suggested as much at the time of signing, stressing the longstanding ties between Israel and Texas.

“As Israel’s number one trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel, and we will continue to build on our historic partnership,” said Abbott in a press release. “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”

In 2021, the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission was created to monitor and combat antisemitism in Texas. The statute that launched the organization used the international definition of antisemitism: “a certain perception of Jews that may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. The term includes rhetorical and physical acts of antisemitism directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals or their property or toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

King said that the commission came to him last year to report “growing whispers” of antisemitism on college campuses.

Following the report, King, alongside Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston), wrote a bill to prohibit academic boycotts of Israel and other foreign countries at public colleges should they prevent a student or faculty member from studying or conducting research in or about the country or interacting with the country’s scholars or representatives.

The bill states that a taxpayer-funded college is allowed to boycott a foreign country only if it is listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria are the only countries currently with that designation. It went into effect in September 2023.

Protesters at UT Arlington have called for their university to ban school-sponsored study-abroad trips to Israel. Doing so would fall under academic boycotting of Israel and is now illegal.

“I think it’s interesting when I hear the protesters calling for the University of Texas to economically divest from Israel,” King told DX. “They’re not allowed by law to do that. The bottom line is that Texas has made it illegal for state colleges and universities, community colleges, too, to do any economic or academic boycott of Israel, or in any way to promote antisemitism or accept antisemitism on their campus.”

Following the October terrorist attacks against Israel by Hamas, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an advisory letter emphasizing the importance of standing against antisemitism, as previously covered by DX.

“Given the recent brutal Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, it is more important than ever to enforce public policy supportive of one of America’s closest allies and a beacon of freedom in the Middle East,” read Paxton’s letter.

“Since 2017, the Texas Legislature has passed, and Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law, a series of restrictions on the ability of Governmental Entities to do business with companies that boycott energy companies, discriminate against firearm entities or associations, or boycott Israel,” he wrote. “Pursuant to these laws, no Texas Governmental Entity may enter into a contract with such boycotters or discriminators for the purchase of goods or services with a value of at least $100,000.”

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