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An odd coincidence of Texas, Israel and Oil

Texas anti-BDS law touches only three companies

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Posted: Monday, January 28, 2019 3:05 pm

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan wants to make a junket to Palestine and Congressman Brian Babin is opposed to it.

Babin’s office put out a press release last Thursday reciting a letter the congressman sent to each Democratic house committee chairperson asking that he or she deny any request to authorize a taxpayer-funded congressional delegation to Palestine.

The letter says the proposed trip “from an outspoken supporter of the ‘BDS’ Israeli boycott movement and whose personal vitriol led her to publicly brag about calling our President a ‘mother****er’ to her young son, is both ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values.”

BDS stands for Boycott, Divest and Sanction, a movement promoted by Palestinian advocates since 2005 calling for an international boycott of Israeli products and companies in protest of Israel’s occupation of lands claimed by both Palestine and Israel.

In response and at the prompting of pro-Israeli groups in 2017, Texas and a number of other states passed anti-BDS laws. Under Texas Government Code, chapters 808 and 2270, no governmental entity may enter into a contract with a company unless the company provides written verification that it does not and will not boycott Israel, and the state comptroller is required to maintain a list of companies that boycott Israel.

The phrase “boycott Israel” is defined in the code so as to include not only companies that themselves boycott Israel, but also any company that takes any action to limit its own commercial relations with any other entity doing business in Israel for any reason other than ordinary business purposes. “Company” is defined so as to cover any kind of business entity, including a company’s subsidiaries and affiliates.

Employees of governmental entities, including school districts, are required to sign statements verifying that they do not and will not boycott Israel.

This is the issue behind the widely reported suit filed late last year by Bahia Amawi against Pflugerville ISD and the state over the loss of her job with the school district following her refusal to sign the anti-BDS statement.

Employees of many private companies in Texas have also been required by their employers to sign such statements.

While other states’ anti-BDS lists include a dozen or more companies, the Texas comptroller’s list of companies boycotting Israel consists of just three companies:

  • Co-Operative Group Limited, a British consumer co-operative involved in retail food, electricity, funeral services, insurance, banking and legal services;
  • DNB ASA, a Norwegian financial services company that offers commercial and investment banking services to international companies operating in the energy industry, and one of its eight offices outside of Norway is in Houston; and
  • Kommunal Landspensjonskasse Gjensidig Forsikringsselskap, a Norwegian life insurance company.

The Vindicator contacted Co-Operative Group Limited last summer by email asking whether that company does any business with any local government in the State of Texas.

The Co-Op’s Head of Corporate PR and Events Russ Brady replied, “The fact is that we don’t boycott Israeli goods. Our member policy prevents us from trading with businesses operating or sourcing product from the occupied territory.

“In terms of your actual question I don’t believe we have any dealings with any state department in Texas.”

By telephone last week, Texas Comptroller Agency Spokesperson Kevin Lyons explained that the companies chosen for the comptroller’s anti-BDS list were those recommended for that list by an outside consulting company.

Besides opposing what they contend are human rights abuses by Israel, the three companies on the comptroller’s list have something else in common — their opposition to fracking and tar sands development in northern Alberta, Canada.

Because of its environmental concerns Kommunal Landspensjonskassedivested itself of interests in MEG Energy Corp., and DNB ASA will not do business with MEG Energy, Cenovus Energy, Inc., or Athabasca Oil Corp. — all three are Canadian oil companies involved in the development of operations in northern Alberta and headquartered in Calgary.

Co-Operative Group Limited’s bank helped raise funds to finance the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s lawsuit against the expansion of oil extraction in Alberta.

Those northern Alberta oil sands are what lies at the other end of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline.

However, Lyons said that the comptroller’s list has to do only with Israel.

“This has nothing to do with pipelines,” Lyons said.

Some 47 miles of the Houston Lateral phase of the Keystone pipeline was constructed from Liberty County to refineries in Harris County.

Texas’ anti-BDS law was passed by the legislature in 2017 as H.B. 89. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a vote of 26-5. Republican Sen. Robert Nichols and four Senate Democrats voted against it. It passed the House by 131-0.

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