The Strangest Loyalty Oath You Probably Never Heard Of


Bahia Amawi works as children’s speech pathologist for the Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas. Or, rather, she used to work as a children’s speech pathologist for the district. After nine years, Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept, the district’s administration declined to renew her contract because she refused to sign a loyalty oath.

Not a loyalty oath to the United States. Not a loyalty oath to the state of Texas. Not a loyalty oath to Pflugerville Independent School District, nor to its students.

A loyalty oath to Israel.

Texas is one of 26 states (with similar legislation pending in 13 others) which requires state contractors to certify that they “do not currently boycott Israel” and “will not boycott Israel” for the duration of the contract.

The definition of “boycott” includes “refusing to deal with” or “terminating business activities with” Israel or any “person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory.”

The purpose of these requirements is to hinder the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS participants call on Israel to meet its “obligations under international law” by withdrawing from occupied Arab territory and so forth, and back that call by refusing to purchase Israeli goods or do business with Israeli companies.

Agree with BDS or not, it’s entirely proper for people who oppose a government’s actions to adhere to their convictions peacefully, by refusing to trade with that government or with businesses operating in that government’s jurisdiction. One prominent example in living memory was the global boycott of South Africa over apartheid, a system many BDS proponents liken to  Israel’s rule in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Texas law  theoretically excludes actions “made for ordinary business purposes,” but it’s easy to see how the loyalty oath could be abused:

Two companies or contractors, one from Israel and one not, bid on a job. When the Israeli company doesn’t get the job, it complains that prejudice against Israel, rather than “ordinary business purposes,” motivated the decision. Contractors who do business with governments requiring such loyalty oaths are likely to bend over backward to avoid such complaints.

But such abuse, while worth noting, isn’t the essential evil of such loyalty oath requirements. It’s merely one negative side effect of a kind of law that’s bad in and of itself.

The state of Israel benefits to the tune of billions of dollars per year in US foreign aid. Instead of just gratefully accepting the annual welfare check, its lobbyists have also successfully demanded what amounts to veto power over US foreign policy.

Now those same welfare queen lobbyists want the power to order American businesses and workers — the people from whom that tribute is extracted — to buy from, sell to, and hire Israelis whether we like it or not.

You and I — and Bahia Amawi — should be free to do business, or not, with anyone we darn well please, for any reasons we consider relevant. And American politicians should stop trying to impose loyalty oaths of any kind.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Protectionist Presidents are the Parents of Our Country’s Trusts

"Free Trade, Free Land, Free Men"
Henry George’s single-tax movement understood how other freedoms rely on free trade

Roger Simmermaker takes the The Wall Street Journal‘s editors to task for warning that Donald Trump will “lose” a “war with the laws of economics” if he wages a trade war with China (“Washington and Lincoln Were Also Tariff Men,” December 13). Simmermaker admits that Trump’s tariffs will reduce the availability of imported goods to domestic consumers, but simply considers buying American instead an inherently good thing.

Simmermaker notes that Trump is by no means the first American president to enact tariffs. He quotes a lineage of eager support for restricting trade running all the way back to George Washington. In an earlier column, Garrison Center director Thomas L. Knapp explained why: “Tariffs help a few people visibly and in a big way, while harming a lot of people far less visibly and far less noticeably. Politicians typically love policies like that because such policies allow them to rack up votes and campaign contributions from some constituencies without enraging others.” Teddy Roosevelt’s proud embrace of the tariff created far more trusts than he busted; its opponents at the time aptly named it “the mother of trusts.”

Simmermaker makes it clear that he doesn’t value the economic well-being of the Chinese as much as that of his fellow Americans, but he would have to be particularly spiteful to harm the latter by cutting off mutually beneficial trade with the former. As the genuine populist Henry George noted in 1886, “Trade has ever been the extinguisher of war, the eradicator of prejudice, the diffuser of knowledge.” Simmerman should take heed of George’s warning that “What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.”

Simmermaker asks why, if tariffs are so economically damaging, has the United States, whose Constitution “never mentions free trade or free markets,” prospered with such a long history of them? Indeed, the new nation’s laws promptly set about the same “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world” that the Declaration of Independence denounced the British monarchy over. Yet it retained enough that Bertrand Russell noted “the leadership [in international trade] has passed to the United States” — the country that had the best chance of replicating the golden ages of previous merchant havens like Italy and Holland. Ironically, American newspapers can still afford to run letters like Simmermaker’s in large part because Trump failed to enact tariffs on inexpensive newsprint from Canada.

The United States has also had the advantage of a huge internal expanse for its economy to reap the benefits of borderless trade. In a time when the Civil Aeronautics Board imposed the economic equivalent of tariffs on airplane flights between states, the airline Southwest was able to supply low-cost air travel within the vast state of Texas. After such barriers were repealed, their advertising told consumers that “You are now free to move about the country.” Similar gains from trade need only not be blocked to soar around the globe.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (


Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall? Prison Photo

US president Donald Trump says he’d be “proud” to take the blame or credit for a fake government shutdown. At issue: Whether or not a stopgap federal spending deal forces American taxpayers to fund his border wall fetish (he previously promised us Mexico would pick up the check).

For me, the situation feels like Christmas come early. I’m generally in favor of government shutdowns — even fake ones in which a few “non-essential” bureaucrats get sent home for a few days then get paid anyway — and 100% opposed to making the “constitution-free zone” near US borders even more like East Germany than it’s already been for decades.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is also about as real as Santa Claus.

In addition to being fake, any “shutdown” will be short. Congress is in “lame duck” mode right now, just stumbling along until new members (and new majority party in the House) take over in January and undo any December developments they don’t like.

As for the wall, it probably won’t get funded this month, but I bet we’ll see parts of it actually in place before the 2020 presidential election.

For one thing, there’s enough wiggle room in congressional appropriations that the chief executive can almost always find a way to pay for the things he wants most.

For another, Trump seems to have finally discovered a weapon that I’ve been pointing at since the fake government shutdowns of the 1990s. During these fake shutdowns, Republicans try to put the blame on Democrats and vice versa, with the winners being those more successful at shifting blame.

The way to really “win” a fake shutdown isn’t to successfully shift blame, it’s to successfully seize credit. Trying to shift blame and seeking a compromise looks like weakness. “Proudly” taking credit and refusing to bend looks like strength. And voters, as a rule, seem to value strength more than they value morality or intelligence. In politics, boldness tends to win the day.

If Trump sticks to his guns here, Democrats may find that they’ve painted themselves (and the next House) into a “try to shift blame” corner from which they will spend the next two years begrudgingly giving Trump everything he demands.

Those concessions may come with pretty “compromise” paint jobs but they’ll still amount to capitulations.  And that approach, in turn, will leave Democrats with a losing 2020 campaign strategy of whining that they had no choice.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.