A government blacklist aimed at political beliefs — NYCLU and UCC come out against Cuomo’s BDS order

Activism

Last Sunday NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order barring state business with groups that advocate for BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at Israel. Here are two of the latest statements opposing the order as a limitation on free speech and a blacklist of groups with dissident views. First the New York Civil Liberties Union. Then the United Church of Christ. 

New York Civil Liberties Union statement, published by Simon McCormack, communications officer:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order this week requiring state agencies and authorities to divest from any company or institution that supports the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. The order not only threatens to punish constitutionally protected political speech but also requires the state of New York to create a blacklist of allies of the movement, which BDS supporters describe as an effort to ensure human rights for Palestinians.

“It’s very simple: If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you,”Cuomo said when he announced the order.

The directive requires all agencies and departments over which the governor has executive authority as well as certain public benefit corporations, public authorities, boards, and commissions to divest funds from any company or institution supporting BDS. The entities are also banned from investing in those companies in the future.

The order itself makes clear that the activity the governor wants to punish is political in nature. But, as the Supreme Court made clear, government can’t penalize people or entities on the basis of their free expression, and political boycotts are a form of free expression.

Perhaps just as troubling, Cuomo also directs the commissioner of the Office of General Services to create a list of companies or entities that support BDS and to publish that list online. Suspected supporters would have to provide “evidence” that they don’t in fact back BDS in order to avoid being blacklisted.

Creating a government blacklist that imposes state sanctions based on political beliefs raises serious First Amendment concerns, and this is no exception.

To be sure, Cuomo is hardly the first public official to take issue with BDS. The governor’s order comes as at least eight other states across the country have enacted anti-BDS legislation over the last year. But Cuomo’s action marks the first time a governor has acted unilaterally against the movement.

To be clear, the New York Civil Liberties Union has taken no position on BDS itself. But one needn’t be a supporter of the movement to understand the dangers associated with the government penalizing the exercise of political speech it disagrees with.

And this is the statement from the United Church of Christ leaders. Note that the UCC voted last June to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation.  

Prompted by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to halt state business with companies that back a boycott of Israel, and the growing interest in several state legislatures in criminalizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, the national officers of the United Church of Christ are speaking out against what they see as an infringement of First Amendment rights.

United Church of Christ officers John Dornhauer, James Moos and Traci Blackmon

United Church of Christ officers (l to r) John Dorhauer, James Moos and Traci Blackmon

Here is the text of their statement:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order this week calling on his state’s agencies to boycott and divest from any entity that participates in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement related to Israel/Palestine. The governor’s action bypasses the New York legislature. But in seven states, initiatives to criminalize this targeted movement have already been adopted by state legislatures, and thirteen more are yet to be considered (including New York), according to the Jerusalem Post—this with the US Congress’s encouragement.

The United Church of Christ has actively supported human rights campaigns, sometimes through consumer boycotts and even divestment of companies that have profited from injustice. Most recently, the UCC Board of Directors endorsed a boycott of Wendy’s for not joining the Fair Food Program—refusing to pay a fair wage to Immokalee farm workers in Florida to pick tomatoes. Last summer, the UCC adopted a resolution at its General Synod calling for divestment from “companies that profit from or that are complicit in violations of human rights arising from the occupation of the Palestinian Territories by the state of Israel,” and to “boycott goods produced in or using the facilities of illegal settlements located in the West Bank.” While not a full endorsement of Palestinian civil society’s BDS Movement, the UCC’s action clearly supports one of that movement’s calls—an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

The UCC is deeply concerned about the attempts by state legislatures to stifle consumer boycott and responsible investment as expressions of free speech—guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. The UCC remains committed to seeking justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians, to working to support bringing an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and to using non-violent tactics—including economic leverage—to do so.

We call upon our elected officials at all levels of government to uphold the Constitutional right of free speech, in all its forms, including the right to use economic measures to bring change; we also call on our members, and allies in the quest for justice and peace for Palestinians and Israelis, to hold their elected officials accountable to that principle.

The National Officers of the United Church of Christ,

Rev. John Dorhauer
General Minister and President

Rev. James Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries

Rev. Traci Blackmon
Acting Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries

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22 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    June 9, 2016, 5:08 pm

    All to the good. But of course Cuomo knew all this and pretty well knew who’d be in opposition. He’s no fool. He also knows the USA Constitution which he swore to uphold (and not to overturn). He doesn;’t care. He’s a “witting” subverter of the Constitution, and a “witting” tool of AIPAC et all (Big-Zion).

    Dig We Must (Your Oligarchy At Work for a Better NY!)

  2. lysias
    June 9, 2016, 5:29 pm

    Does this executive order punish people who express support of BDS in addition to people who participate in it?

    • lysias
      June 9, 2016, 6:52 pm

      I found the text of the executive order.

      To be put on the blacklist, this must be satisfied:

      Not later than 180 days after the date of this Executive Order, the Commissioner shall develop a list of institutions and companies that the Commissioner determines, using credible information available to the public, participate in boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary. Such list, when completed, shall be posted on the website of the Office of General Services.

      And “Boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel” is defined as follows:

      “Boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel” means to engage in any activity, or promote others to engage in any activity, that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with Israel or persons doing business in Israel for purposes of coercing political action by, or imposing policy positions on, the government of Israel.

      “Promoting others to engage in” such activity presumably includes just speaking or writing in favor of BDS.

  3. pabelmont
    June 9, 2016, 8:10 pm

    BTW, looks like boycotting American companies (which participate in settlements, for example) is NOT covered here. Hard to say what “target Israel” means. Loose drafting. How about a boycott which targets a company which is registered as a corporation in Israel (“an Israeli corporation”)? How about a company which does business in Israel (for whatever reason)?

    We’ll see what it “means” as Cuomo fleshes this out. Can an executive order be “void for vagueness”?

    • Rusty Pipes
      June 11, 2016, 4:21 am

      It is not clear whether mainline church divestment measures would be covered here, because most of them have been targeted not at Israeli companies, but at American companies whose businesses help Israel enforce the occupation of Palestine (like Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard). However, Mainline church boycott measures clearly would be covered here, as they target the goods of Israeli companies that are produced in settlements in occupied Palestine. Some of the measures have mentioned specific products, like Medjool dates from the Jordan Valley, others have been broader in scope. Every local mainline church in the state of New York might be said to be participating, through a parent institution (denomination), in this boycott campaign to penalize Israel as a means of coercing political action.

      Should we mention that some of these denominations have been advocating for the return of Palestinians and a just and peaceful resolution since 1948? Does continuing to issue regular appeals to politicians to pressure both sides evenhandedly constitute promoting others to coerce political action or impose policy positions (like abiding by international law) on the government of Israel?

  4. Citizen
    June 10, 2016, 8:59 pm

    Amazing how this growing issue is NOT mentioned on US cable TV news/infotanment shows.

    • JWalters
      June 11, 2016, 7:11 pm

      Truly amazing. How could that possibly be happening? (Since the system is not rigged.)

  5. Misterioso
    June 12, 2016, 3:00 pm

    Israel, “a light unto nations [NOT]”

    Israeli soldiers filmed beating unarmed Palestinian during recent occupied West Bank protest

    • lonely rico
      June 12, 2016, 3:20 pm

      Heavily armed GANGS of thugs beating up an unarmed man –

      THE MOST CHICKENSHIT ARMY IN THE WORLD

      • klm90046
        June 13, 2016, 8:13 pm

        How dare this heavily unarmed man attack eight armed soldiers of the most moral army in the world?

  6. lonely rico
    June 12, 2016, 3:14 pm

    In the state of New York, what exactly is the legal framework of an Executive Order ?
    Can it be issued at any time, on any subject ?
    Does it require subsequent review by the legislature ?
    Is it used only in the case of emergencies ?
    Is it used while the state legislature is sitting ?
    Is it appropriate that it be used in the interest(s) of a foreign government ?

  7. Elizabeth Block
    June 13, 2016, 9:59 am

    This is happening in Canada, too.
    In the Ontario legislature there was a bill introduced censuring BDS and its supporters. It completely misrepresented the nature and aims of BDS! These people didn’t even do their homework. It was defeated, partly thanks to very quick organizing of opposition.
    Now we may expect a reprise. The premier has just been to Israel and seems to have come home a Zionist, if she wasn’t one already. We’re going to have to get cracking.
    And in the federal Parliament there was a resolution condemning BDS. It has no legal force whatever, but it scares people, which no doubt was the intent.

    • klm90046
      June 13, 2016, 8:04 pm

      Prime Minister Trudeau, much to the dismay of progressives the world over, has come out to condemn BDS and has spoken in blind support of Israel. Any thoughts, anybody?

      • eljay
        June 14, 2016, 5:54 am

        || klm90046: Prime Minister Trudeau, much to the dismay of progressives the world over, has come out to condemn BDS and has spoken in blind support of Israel. Any thoughts, anybody? ||

        My thought: I’m not surprised. He’s pretty / insubstantial.

  8. klm90046
    June 13, 2016, 7:59 pm

    Does this suppression of free speech cover academic associations, or only businesses? Someone please help clarify.

    • Kay24
      June 13, 2016, 10:08 pm

      That is very disappointing to read. I expected much more from him, because he did all the right things initially, even welcoming Syrians refugees, and here I thought he would be immune to the evil influence of Israel. Looks like Trudeau has the same devotion to Israel like Harper did.

    • MHughes976
      June 14, 2016, 4:15 am

      This proclamation is about investment of money and assets (whatever the latter means) by bodies under NY State control. I don’t suppose that the State invests in voluntary academic associations very much in any case, presumably not at all in religious associations. It’s by means a harmless act but the impact would be quite limited. I suspect it’s more posturing than anything else.

      • MHughes976
        June 14, 2016, 7:14 am

        ‘By no means a harmless act’, sorry.

      • Mooser
        June 14, 2016, 11:35 am

        ” I suspect it’s more posturing than anything else.”

        They even brought their own placard (“NY stands with Israel”) and glued it to NY State property.

  9. Mooser
    June 14, 2016, 12:11 pm

    Wouldn’t the graphics of that “Stand with Israel” placard be well known to people in NY city?

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