Three anti-BDS bills were fast-tracked out of committee and passed [on March 8, 2017] without debate by the New York State Senate. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response:
These bills are blatantly unconstitutional attacks on First Amendment rights to protest and dissent. They resurrect widely-condemned tactics used to undermine democracy: creating McCarthyite blacklists, punishing dissent, attacking academic freedom, and cracking down on student organizing.
With a presidential administration that has little regard for constitutional rights, it is crucial for our state and local lawmakers to stand firm in support of the right to dissent. Today, by singling out for punishment those who advocate for Palestinian rights, the New York State Senate has sent a message, loud and clear: that New Yorkers cannot count on them to safeguard democracy in the Trump era.
We, together with New Yorkers who care about the right to engage in political advocacy, will make sure that these bills do not make it out of the NY State Assembly, and do not become law.
At the heart of these three bills is growing public support for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian rights. Boycotts to effect political, social or economic change – including boycotts for Palestinian rights – are a constitutionally-protected form of speech, association and assembly. The government may not enact laws aimed at punishing those who engage in such boycotts, which have a long history of being used successfully to address injustice, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the movement against South African apartheid.
Each of these bills has been introduced in the New York State legislature in previous years, and each one has been rejected after an outcry from New Yorkers defending human rights and free speech.
- S.2492 would create a state-sponsored blacklist of individuals, organizations, and companies that support boycotts for Palestinian rights, and would unconstitutionally deny them state benefits. When a previous iteration of S.2492 failed to pass the New York State legislature in 2016, Governor Cuomo side-stepped the democratic process, signing a widely criticized Executive Order similar to the failed bill (the Executive Order does not blacklist individuals).
- A version of S.2493 similarly failed to pass the legislature in 2016. As the bill’s sponsor notes, the purpose of the bill is to “prohibit student organizations that participate in hate-speech, including advocating for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel and American allied nations from receiving public funding.” But the Supreme Court has made it clear that the state may not condition a benefit on the requirement that one forgo a constitutional right, including the right to support and advocate for BDS.
- In 2014, a previous iteration of S.4837 also failed to pass the New York State legislature after public outcry. This bill takes aim at academic associations and entities that support BDS by threatening to withhold state funding from them. A 2014 New York Times editorial called the bill an “ill-considered response to the American Studies Association and would trample on academic freedoms and would chill free speech and dissent.”
Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights are urging New Yorkers to contact their State Senator to register their opposition to the passage of these bills, and to contact their State Assemblymember to demand they vote against such anti-BDS bills and all other efforts to limit the right to protest and dissent.