Last time we checked in on Lakewood native George Hale in May 2018, he was busy working on his podcast, “Buried,” which investigates the disappearance of a woman who vanished in 1991. Flash forward a year, and Hale is one of four plaintiffs who have joined an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against government agencies that require employees to sign pro-Israel loyalty oaths.
If you’re thinking that “Buried” has nothing to do with Israel, you’re right. But Hale’s award-winning podcast airs on the public radio station associated with Texas A&M University-Commerce. And in August 2018, the college said Hale would lose his contract to work on the podcast if he didn’t sign a loyalty oath swearing he would never join or support a boycott of Israel, the Dallas Observer reported.
Hale, who worked for eight years as a reporter in the West Bank, didn’t want to give up his First Amendment right to free speech, but he also didn’t want to stop working on the podcast. So he signed. And now he’s suing.
To be fair, the university was acting in accordance with Texas laws. In 2017, the state legislature passed a law requiring people who contract or work for state businesses to sign an oath swearing they will not boycott Israel or speak in support of an Israeli boycott, according to the Observer.
The publication reported that the ACLU lawsuit hopes to confront laws in Texas and other states that seek to counter a global anti-Israel movement called boycott, divestment and sanctions. The movement hopes to exert economic pressure on Israel so it will agree to the end of occupation in the West Bank, equal rights for Palestinians and the right of return for all Palestinians.
Filed in federal district court in Austin, the lawsuit argues that even the most unpopular opinions are constitutionally protected as free speech. It focuses on First Amendment rights and does not take a position on Israel or the anti-Israel boycotts.
Hale told the Observer he rejects anti-Semitism and understand the security threats Israelis live with every day because he worked there for years. But he also saw the poverty of Palestinians in the occupied territories and thinks they deserve the same rights as everyone else.
Americans should have the choice to discuss those topics freely, he said.
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