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HB 89 and its effect on Texas lodgers

March 20, 2019

This is a little complicated, so bear with me.

First of all, Israel is a fully functioning modern state, firmly and solidly integrated into the international community.

Second, since 1967, Israel has been in military occupation of the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank.

There are international laws and conventions that set legal standards for occupying powers. One of those laws is that the occupying power (Israel in this case) is not allowed to transfer civilian population into the occupied territory (the West Bank). This is why the “settlements” that Israel constructs in the West Bank for Israeli citizens are illegal. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch tell us that the settlements are on land stolen from Palestinians and do considerable harm to the prospects of peace in the region.

The international community has not done much to deter Israel’s settlement-building enterprise. But many groups choose not to do business with or in these settlements, because the settlements are illegal and obstacles to peace.

One company that has recently decided not to do business in the settlements is Airbnb. Airbnb has a policy of not listing properties in any disputed territory. And so it is not listing properties in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. (It is important to note that it proudly and gladly lists properties that are in Israel proper. It has no problems doing business within Israel.)

Got that? Because things are about to get confusing.

Now, if you are a contractor for the state of Texas and you are traveling on state business —for instance, as a consultant for Alamo Community Colleges —and staying in an Airbnb property, say, in San Antonio’s King William district, the state of Texas will no longer compensate you for your lodging. The state will compensate you if you stay in a hotel or another home-sharing property. But not Airbnb.

Why? Because Airbnb does not accept listings from the occupied West Bank.

Confused yet? You should be. Why should Texas punish a San Antonio homeowner who lists with Airbnb over Airbnb’s perfectly reasonable decision not to do business in disputed territory?

It is because Texas, to its shame, has a law, HB 89, that requires people and businesses that contract with the state of Texas to agree not to boycott Israel, including, apparently, businesses that operate in the West Bank. (Remember, the West Bank is a territory that is not part of Israel but that Israel controls through military occupation.) If you are a contractor with the state of Texas, you need to sign a document promising not to engage in a boycott or do business with companies that participate in a boycott against Israel.

Let’s be clear: You are free to boycott McDonald’s. You are free to boycott Tibet. You are free to boycott the U.S. government. You are free to boycott Oklahoma if you want. I’m not sure why you’d want to, but, hey, it’s a free country — that is, except when it comes to Israel. You are not free to boycott Israel. You are not even free to do business with a company that chooses not to operate in the occupied territories.

This is our law: HB 89. It is almost certainly unconstitutional. Let’s ask why our legislators voted for this. And let’s ask them to get rid of it.

Judith Norman is a philosophy professor at Trinity University and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.