The two sides of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement squared off in New York’s City Hall on Thursday, with BDS activists disrupting a hearing where city council members discussed a resolution condemning BDS. The resolution doesn’t add penalties, but displays a hostility to a non-violent act of free speech, BDS supporters say.
New York State has been a battleground for opponents and supporters of the BDS movement. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has decried the movement that aims to pressure Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians living under its jurisdiction. Cuomo signed an executive order in June barring the state from doing business with businesses or organizations that support BDS.
The resolution is called: “Resolution condemning all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.” According to the Jerusalem Post, 33 of the council’s 55 members back the anti-BDS measure.
“New York City Council should stay out of the business of condemning non-violent human rights movements,” Radhika Sainath, staff attorney with Palestine Legal, said in a statement on Thursday. “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 and human rights boycotts.”
The Freedom to Boycott NYS helped organize a wide range of groups to participate in a press conference before the hearing, including “Center for Constitutional Rights,Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No!, Adalah New York, Palestine Legal, the National Lawyers Guild, American Muslims for Palestine and the US Palestinian Community Network,” according to a statement from JVP.
The Jerusalem Post covered the story after protests lead to the ejection of multiple pro-BDS activists from the council hearing room. They painted a picture of a room where Black Lives Matter rubbed elbows Neturei Karta, Orthodox Jews opposed to Israel’s existence for religious reasons.
Protesters, some identifying as pro-Palestinian, some associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and Neturei Karta, among others, continually disrupted the hours-long proceedings, waving Palestinian flags and shouting that “Zionism is racism,” “F**k Israel” and “Free Palestine,” to the point that police emptied out the Council chambers’ entire top-floor balcony.
According to Samidoun, an activist group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners, the disruptions delayed the start of the meeting by an hour, with protesters chanting “Zionism is Racism!” and holding up Palestinian flags. Samidoun compiled video from the event in a post, and praised Assemblyman Charles Barron for opposing the anti-BDS measure with a “powerful refutation of the resolution and support for Palestinian rights.”
Pam Sporn, part of JVP’s New York branch, added that pressure for Israel to reform its policies comes from Jewish New Yorkers as well.
“An increasing number of Jewish New Yorkers, like myself, are deeply concerned by Israeli policies including the nearly 50 year-old military occupation of The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza through a brutal combination of separation walls, checkpoints, and illegal Jewish-only settlements,” she said. ““ I strongly oppose the proposed this City Council initiative, Resolution 1058-A, which attempts to chill the free speech of all New Yorkers to advocate for change in Israeli policies through support for the growing BDS movement for Palestinian human rights.”
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said that BDS deserved respect as a point of view.
“Whatever happened to, ‘I don’t agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend your right to say it?’” she asked, as quoted by the New York Daily News.
Councilman David Greenfield didn’t have sympathy for the movement, and accused it of bigotry. Greenfield also got into a shouting match with Neturei Karta and called them a “mentally unstable cult” that lives upstate in Monsey.
“Shocked, but sadly unsurprised,” Greenfield said, reacting to the protest. “Any time you hold the BDS movement and its supporters up to any kind of scrutiny, you find either that they are simply ignorant, or that their motivations are rooted in bigotry and hatred. We saw both kinds of BDS supporters at today’s hearing.”