Karl Grossman
Karl Grossman

“If You Boycott Israel, New York Will Boycott You”

Both Suffolk and Nassau Counties on Long Island in challenges to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement have now enacted laws barring their doing business with persons and businesses that boycott Israel.

And last week, the New York City Council passed a resolution condemning “all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.” Sponsored by Councilman Andrew Cohen of The Bronx, it describes Israel as “far and away the most democratic and open society in the Middle East” and “an ally of the United States” with “a long-standing relationship with the City of New York.”

Originally, the New York City bill aimed at taking on BDS by supporting legislation under consideration in the New York State Legislature similar to the laws enacted on Long Island, but state lawmakers didn’t act before the close of their 2016 state legislative session.

However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the situation and issued an executive order in June directing state agencies to stop doing business with any individual or company boycotting Israel. “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you,” Cuomo declared.

The Nassau County bill was authored by Legislator Howard Kopel of Lawrence. “It is imperative that as a county we demonstrate to other governments the importance of fighting against all practices of hatred and discrimination,” said Kopel as the Nassau County Legislature unanimously passed his bill in May.

Kopel called the BDS movement “nothing more than thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.” He said Nassau County “will not be a party to actions that violate our principle of condemning bigotry and anti-Semitism in all forms.” And, he said, the measure places Nassau on “the right side of history.”

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano signed the measure commenting: “Anti-Semitic policies have no place in our society, and Nassau County will not tolerate discriminatory BDS policies. Together we stand united with our ally Israel.”

The Suffolk County bill was sponsored by Legislator Steve Stern of Dix Hills. “BDS is aimed at undermining the Israeli economy and Israel’s sovereignty and has led to intimidation and intolerance,” he said. “The spread of BDS is not only an attack on our friend and ally, not only on the Jewish people, but on the fundamental principles of our entire nation.”  He added that his measure “sends a strong and clear message that the people of Suffolk County stand in solidarity with Israel, today and always.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed it into law. “Suffolk County strongly supports the State of Israel and we will not do business with anyone who would boycott Israel,” said Bellone. “I am proud that Suffolk County lawmakers voted unanimously across party lines for Legislator Stern’s local law to align our procurement law to reflect the policy in Governor Cuomo’s executive order.”

The Suffolk law passed unanimously last month.

Nassau and Suffolk, with an evenly divided combined population of five million people, constitute the eastern two-thirds of Long Island geographically. The boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens comprise the western portion of Long Island and are part of New York City.

The anti-BDS legislation sponsored by Cohen in the New York City Council faced opposition from Palestinian interests including the groups Palestine Legal, American Muslims for Palestine and US Palestinian Community Network. Also in opposition were the Jewish organizations Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!

At a hearing on September 8, there were protests and the ejection of several BDS supporters from the City Council hearing room. Palestinian flags were waved and there were shouts of “Zionism is racism” and “Free Palestine.”

Radhika Sainath, staff attorney of Palestine Legal, said in a statement: “Lawmakers’ actions carry weight. By passing this resolution, New York City Council will chill the speech of New Yorkers eager to be part of an international human rights movement. In the process, the City Council will infringe on our constitutional rights and tarnish our country’s rich history of civil rights and human rights boycotts.”

Nevertheless, the following week, on September 14, by a vote of 40 in favor, four against and six abstentions, the measure was approved. As a resolution, rather than a law, it does not need the signature of the city’s mayor, Bill DiBlasio.

It states that the BDS movement “is a campaign seeking to exclude the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of humanity.” It continues that “this movement targets not just the Israeli government but Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel” and “targets Israel and only Israel, while ignoring the world’s myriad despotic regimes.” In describing how “Israel is far and away the most democratic and open society in the Middle East,” the resolution says Israel has “well-established rights for religious minorities, women, and LGBT citizens that far exceeds those of any other nation in the region.”

The measure says the BDS movement “does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination.” And goes on that “some of the BDS movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric, including comparison of Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany.”

It says, “University-based BDS efforts violate the core goals of the university and global cultural development, which thrive on a free and open exchange and debate.”

“Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in safe and secure states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition” and the “BDS movement does not support the two-state solution, a goal which can only be reached through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The measure’s concluding paragraph declares: “The City of New York has the largest population of Jewish residents in the nation and is home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel; now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Council of the City of New York condemns all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction its government and people.”

The New York State Assembly measure challenging BDS was authored by Charles Lavine of Glen Cove in Nassau County. A parallel bill was filed in the State Senate. Lavine commented: “Since its earliest days, the Jewish State has been the subject of these boycotts. In spite of these efforts, Israel has become an economic power and remains America’s great economic and strategic ally.” Lavine called the BDS movement “an orchestrated effort to weaken and delegitimize Israel through economic isolation, which would harm our great ally. It undermines America’s national security to assist Israel’s enemies.”

Among the Assembly bill’s co-sponsors was Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor in Suffolk County who commented: “Israel is an important strategic and economic ally of the United States of America. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is an orchestrated campaign designed to weaken and delegitimize the Nation of Israel through economic isolation.” He noted the measure amended “the State Finance Law and the Retirement and Social Security Law to prohibit New York State from contracting with any corporation or individual engaging in any economic boycott of the Nation of Israel” and, further, “prevents” the multi-billion dollar state “pension fund from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.” Said Thiele: “This legislation sends a strong message that New York State does not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism.”

As to the legislation’s lack of passage, one explanation—the New York State Assembly and Senate have long been harshly criticized for their sluggishness, indeed chronic inaction.  Both have been regularly described by watchdog organizations and journalists as dysfunctional.

But on BDS, Governor Cuomo jumped in with his executive order.

As Cuomo wrote in an op-ed column in June in The Washington Post: “The coldblooded terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv this week served as a chilling reminder of the summer of 2014, when a steady rain of terrorist rockets from Gaza confined the vast majority of the Israeli population to bomb shelters and protected rooms. During a visit with a bipartisan delegation that August I was shown a mile-long Hamas tunnel built to infiltrate Israel’s southern communities and murder their residents. The tunnel was frightening because it was the manifestation of the single-minded obsession by Israel’s enemies to destroy the Jewish state. And yet, in many ways it was not nearly as frightening as continued efforts to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.”

“That is why,” Cuomo went on, he “signed the first executive order by a U.S. governor to help protect Israel from these pernicious efforts to punish it economically. My order ensures that no state agency or authority will engage in or promote any investment activity that would further the harmful and discriminatory BDS campaign. “

He said “a new front has opened in the fight against Israel’s existence,” that “there are those who seek to weaken Israel through the politics of discrimination, hatred and fear. New York will not tolerate this new brand of warfare. New York stands with Israel because we are Israel and Israel is us. Our values—freedom, democracy, liberty and the pursuit of peace—are collective, as is our drive to achieve them.”

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for 45 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and the author of six books.