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New York State Assembly-Reject the unconstitutional anti-BDS bill (A9036)

Submitted by Robin Messing on Sun, 02/07/2016 - 9:11pm

I wrote an article two years ago about an attempt by some of Israel's supporters to pass a blatantly unconstitutional New York State bill  that would punish supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.)  The bill failed back then, but its supporters are at it again.  

The State Senate has passed a bill that will penalize corporations, nonprofits and individuals who boycott countries on a list of "allied nations" by making them ineligible to contract with New York State.  The bill also requires the state to divest from companies participating in the boycott.  Its counterpart is now being considered in the Assembly as bill A9036.  Both Chip Gibbons, a Legal Fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, have written excellent summaries of the bill.  I encourage you to read them now.  Both articles emphasize the unconstitutionality of the bill, but there is one passage in Viloemerson's article that struck my eye because it can be used as a starting point to discuss an issue that neither authors raise--passing this bill could inadvertently create an environment for the spread of anti-Semitism.  Vilkomerson wrote:

The right to boycott is a protected form of political speech. As American citizens we have a fundamental right – indeed an obligation – to speak out against Israel’s nearly 50-year-old occupation, the theft of Palestinian land for settlements (which violate official U.S. policy), the destruction of Palestinian homes, the cruel and illegal siege and blockade of Gaza, and other Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights. And as Jewish Americans we have the additional imperative of asserting that Israeli policies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims to the contrary, are not in our name. (emphasis added)

Vilkomerson has reason to be concerned that Netanyahu is speaking in the name of American Jews. Last February, as he was getting ready to address Congress, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu asserted that he spoke  not just for Israelis, but for Jews throughout the world.  Here is what he said:
“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, during a conference for French-speaking Likud activists. “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us. Those who want to kill us are, first and foremost, any Iranian regime that says outright it plans to destroy us.
One of the main causes of rising anti-Semitism around the world is the perception that Jews uncritically support Israel's illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank and its attacks against Gaza.  Here is how J.J. Goldberg described a 2014 report by the Jewish People Policy Institute:
Much of the report focuses on participants’ concerns about Israeli democracy itself — religious pluralism and discrimination against Arab citizens, for example. But one section is devoted to “The impact of Israel’s policies on the security and wellbeing of Jews around the world.” It warns: “There is clear evidence that periods of tension between Israel and its neighbors raise the frequency and severity of harassment/attacks on Jews in locations around the world.”

In many incidents of physical attacks on Jews, the assailant cites Israeli actions as the motivation.  . . .

And it quotes a 2012 Anti-Defamation League research report, “Anti-Semitism on the Rise in America,” which claimed, “Anti-Israel feelings are triggering anti-Semitism.”


It’s often argued, correctly, that anger at Israel shouldn’t lead to attacks on Jews in other countries. But enemies of Israel are already prepared to attack Israeli commuter buses and restaurants. It’s only a short jump from there to foreigners who identify themselves as Israel’s next line of defense and declare, “We are one.”


Netanyahu did not help alleviate the perception that all Jews unquestioningly support Israel, no matter how egregiously it acts.  Many of our politicians demand that Muslims loudly denounce Islamic extremism whenever a Muslim carries out a terrorist attack anywhere in the world.  And though it does not get nearly the media coverage it deserves, many Muslims have spoken out against the abuse of their religion as an excuse to commit terrorism.  I suspect they speak out for two reasons.  First, they speak out because it is the right thing to do.  And second, they speak out because they hope that if the public hears a loud Muslim voice condemning terrorism it will stem the rising tide of Islamophobia.  
In a similar manner, the more Jews are perceived as supporting Israel's brutal occupation, the more anti-Semitism is likely to grow. Jewish protest against the occupation and for Palestinian rights can provide an inoculation against the cancer of anti-Semitism.  And one of the most important ways to speak out against the occupation is through support of the BDS movement, imperfect though it may be. 
Passage of A.9036 will foster an environment ripe for the spread of anti-Semitism in two ways. 1) It will penalize Jews (and others) who support the BDS movement.  The fewer Jews who visibly support BDS and other forms of protest against Israel, the more conducive the environment will be to the spread of anti-Semitism.  2) The right to protest through boycotts is a fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution. (See NAACP v Claiborne Hardware Co.).  Passing A.9036 will take away a Constitutional right from the people, and unfortunately, some will jump to the conclusion that Jews are willing to stomp on American rights in order to safeguard Israel's occupation.  Of course, this conclusion would be flawed because the bill penalizes boycotts against 52 allied countries and not just Israel.  And it is also flawed because Jews are not the only ones pushing for this bill.  But the Zionist Organization of America is pushing for this bill and Jewish Insider has reported that this bill is designed to protect Israel from the BDS movement.  Those who want to spread anti-Semitism will latch on to these facts and ignore that AIPAC has refused to support this and similar bills because they are blatantly unconstitutional.  It would be unfair to single Jews out for stomping on the Constitution, but fair or not, that is how it will be perceived by far too many.
New York State Assembly members should reject this bill because it is unconstitutional.  But if that's not a good enough reason, then they should reject this bill because it could foster an environment conducive to the sprtead of anti-Semitism.
Update 2/8: Minor editing changes were made.
Update 2/9: just came out with an article about this bill that is well worth reading.