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Influential Jewish group pushes New York bill aimed at Israel boycott

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at the Jewish Community Relations Council's 2009 rally in support of Israel during Operation Cast Lead. (Photo: Vosizneias.com)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver speaking at the Jewish Community Relations Council’s 2009 rally in support of Israel during Operation Cast Lead. (Photo: Vosizneias.com)

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) takes legislators on free trips to Israel and spearheaded the campaign against boycotting the country at Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Coop.  Now, the JCRC has opened up a new front in the battle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement: helping to draft legislation aimed at academic organizations that support BDS.

On Friday, the Jewish Daily Forward‘s Hody Nemes reported that the JCRC was working closely with the New York legislators who are behind a bill prohibiting state funds from flowing to academic groups that boycott Israel–a reaction to the American Studies Association’s (ASA) endorsement of BDS last December.  The JCRC helped draft New York Senate legislation against the boycott that passed two weeks ago, and is working with New York Assembly leaders on their own bill.

The JCRC is a key umbrella organization that acts as a central coordination body for the organized Jewish community in New York.  Other Jewish organizations that are members of the JCRC–like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee–say they don’t support the New York bills.

“Speaker Silver and Senator Klein are taking a stand against this extremist movement and in support of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas,” the JCRC’s Hindy Poupko told the Forward’s Nemes, referring to the legislators who drafted the anti-boycott bills.

The original Assembly legislation prohibits state cash from going to pro-BDS academic groups. It would have cut off state aid for a year to any school in New York that used taxpayer dollars to fund travel or departmental membership in groups like the ASA.

After an outcry last week from Palestine solidarity groups, the New York teacher’s union and civil liberties organizations that called it an attack on free speech and academic freedom, it was withdrawn.  The backlash worried some Israel advocates, like former New York Assemblyman Ryan Karben, who, in a blogpost, called the withdrawal of the bill a “political earthquake” because it showed that “Democrats and the interest groups that fire the party’s base and fill its coffers are moving away from global pro-Israel talking points.”

But now, the bill is back, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver amending the punishment for schools in violation of the bill.  Instead of withdrawing all state aid for a year, the exact amount spent would be withdrawn from state aid to the school.  In other words, if $100 of taxpayer money is used by a teacher to travel to the ASA convention, the state would deduct $100 from the school the teacher works for. While it’s less punitive than the original bill, the constitutional concerns–that the state is punishing speech based on its content–remain.

The New York Senate legislation has not been amended.  As the Senate measure stands, any school in violation of the law would lose all state aid for a year.  Jeff Klein, the Democratic author of the Senate bill, praised the JCRC’s work on the legislation to the Forward.

Klein “worked very closely with the JCRC,” which helped him draft the legislation.  “I was on a conference call with their board [on February 4] and they were very, very excited and supportive of the bill passing the Senate and they wanted to figure out a strategy for the bill passing the Assembly as well,” he said in an interview with Nemes.

The JCRC’s involvement in drafting the bill is the latest demonstration of its clout in state government. It is the go-to address for legislators looking to display their pro-Israel bonafides, and has forged close relationships with powerful officials such as Assembly Speaker Silver.  In October 2011, the JCRC worked with Silver to pass a bill banning companies that invest in Iran’s energy industry from being able to obtain state contracts. And as Phan Nguyen noted on this site, Silver toured Israel and the occupied West Bank in December 2008 on the JCRC’s dime.  He was pictured next to Shaul Goldstein, then-mayor of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, which administers illegal settlements.

The JCRC is not the only Jewish organization to get behind the anti-boycott bills.  The Forward‘s Nemes also reported that the Baltimore Jewish Council in Maryland helped draft that state’s bill, which is similar to the New York one.  Another bill aimed at state funds for universities is set to be introduced in Illinois, according to the Forward.  Less punitive resolutions condemning the ASA are pending in Pennsylvania and Florida.

And some Jewish and pro-Israel groups are backing the Congressional bill introduced last week that would cut off federal funds to academic institutions in support of BDS.  The conservative Washington Free Beacon‘s Adam Kredo reported last week that The Israel Project and the Simon Wiesenthal Center supported the legislation.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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24 Responses

  1. flyod
    flyod
    February 11, 2014, 9:30 am

    incredible really. silver, holding a taxpayer funded government position, spends valuable time and resources aiding a foreign government rather than his own. in any other context he would be run out of town or worse

  2. bangpound
    bangpound
    February 11, 2014, 9:50 am

    Maybe the Jewish Community Relations Council could do something theatrical to build support for their agenda… maybe something with puppets… and sexual assault? http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/coalition-partners-dont-associate-with-astroturfing-iran-180.html

  3. yrn
    yrn
    February 11, 2014, 11:33 am

    I guess in a while most of the articles are going to be on this subject.
    As most of the Jewish organizations world wide are going to react , like it’s a surprise for the boycott bullies.
    .

    • Shingo
      Shingo
      February 11, 2014, 5:39 pm

      As most of the Jewish organizations world wide are going to react , like it’s a surprise for the boycott bullies.

      Oh cry me a river. Israel kills Palestinian every day, imprisons them, steals more land, demolishes more homes, expels more Palestinians, it’s BDS who are the bullying those supporting these war crimes and crimes against humanity.

      Of course, Jewish organizations are free to react as they wish, so long as they don’t so it on the public purse.

      • Talkback
        Talkback
        February 12, 2014, 8:19 am

        … like it’s a surprise for the boycott bullies.

        It’s not a surprise that perverted minds call BDS bullies instead of the occupying bullies.

    • American
      American
      February 12, 2014, 9:19 am

      yrn says..
      I guess in a while most of the articles are going to be on this subject.
      As most of the Jewish organizations world wide are going to react , like it’s a surprise for the boycott bullies.”

      Good, we want them to react, we want them keep showing themselves as what they are…..Anti America- Anti Democracy.

  4. Hostage
    Hostage
    February 11, 2014, 11:46 am

    The new bill is just as unconstitutional as the old one.

    There are more than 100 Colombia professors who have signed a letter explaining:

    Columbia University, in keeping with our peers, supports faculty research and professional development by reimbursing faculty for the costs of membership in relevant professional organizations, and covers the reasonable costs of travel to official meetings of those organizations.

    http://coreyrobin.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/columbia-faculty-boycott-letter-with-signatures-11.pdf

    There are civil rights statutes that prohibit states from withholding “privileges” that are extended to other groups under color of law on the basis of viewpoint discrimination. There have been Supreme Court First Amendment cases on precisely that sort of funding policy, pursued in attempts to govern or restrict content of protected speech.
    See:
    * 42 U.S. Code § 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rights
    * Rosenberger v. University of Va., 515 U.S. 819
    * Widmar v. Vincent 80-689
    * National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Claiborne Hardware Co. 458 U.S. 886

    Pillage is prohibited by Article 28 of the Hague rules of 1907 and is a federal war crime in accordance with 18 U.S. Code § 2441 – War crimes (c)(2). The legislative record indicates that the practice violates long standing US public policy.

    So it follows (no shit) that Jewish tax-exempt organizations which devote more than insubstantial part of their activities to encouraging unlawful conduct should be barred from exemption. See ACTIVITIES THAT ARE ILLEGAL OR CONTRARY TO PUBLIC POLICY

  5. Hostage
    Hostage
    February 11, 2014, 12:07 pm

    On Friday, the Jewish Daily Forward‘s Hody Nemes reported that the JCRC was working closely with the New York legislators who are behind a bill prohibiting state funds from flowing to academic groups that boycott Israel–a reaction to the American Studies Association’s (ASA) endorsement of BDS last December.

    Or it might have been a reaction to the $138,000 it received from the Consulate General of Israel shown on page 21 of its 2011 IRS form 990. Page 3 said it didn’t engage in any political lobbying activities in 2011. http://www.jcrcny.org/media/990_form_2011-12.pdf

  6. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr
    February 11, 2014, 12:20 pm

    >>The JCRC is a key umbrella organization that acts as a central coordination body
    >>for the organized Jewish community in New York.

    Just by way of clarification, that’s a description of the JCRC of New York. There are other JCRCs in other states and metro areas – 125 of them in all, according to the Bay Area one, and that means basically everywhere. I suppose they do a variety of things, but, as in this case, one routine function is to act in the name of the “Jewish community” as the Zionist thought police. The JCRC of San Francisco, for example, wrote guidelines that bar Jewish organizations from sponsoring events or funding projects that don’t toe the line on Israel. (See, for instance, the Muzzlewatch post “Jewish Community Relations Council of SF to young Jews: You can’t speak here.” I first learned about them in 2002, when they initiated the (eventually successful) effort to get me fired from the San Francisco Chronicle, after I wrote a column they didn’t like (to put it mildly!).

    • Les
      Les
      February 11, 2014, 1:39 pm

      Add that this umbrella is solely a creature of the of the well paid heads of its member organizations.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        February 11, 2014, 5:31 pm

        Add that this umbrella is solely a creature of the of the well paid heads of its member organizations.

        The funding that it receives from the Consulate General of Israel tends to indicate otherwise. See my comment above.

  7. seafoid
    seafoid
    February 11, 2014, 12:58 pm

    Influential jewish group…sounds like a group of Aztec high priests organising a big sacrifice at the main temple with Cortes at the gates…

    • February 11, 2014, 1:41 pm

      I am getting really sick and tired of these groups telling us what we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot say, what we can and cannot be informed about by the media.

  8. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    February 11, 2014, 1:49 pm

    “The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) takes legislators on free trips to Israel and spearheaded the campaign against boycotting the country at Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Coop.”

    Remember how all of these free trips for legislators was supposed to come to an end?

  9. seafoid
    seafoid
    February 11, 2014, 2:12 pm

    I am travelling so can’t do links but Sefi Rachlevsky has a humdinger up at haaretz.com called ‘fire of incitement is destroying israel’. “The israeli regime has become kahanist”

  10. RoHa
    RoHa
    February 11, 2014, 8:53 pm

    OT, but probably deserving a story of its own.

    The ABC and The Australian take up the issue of the IDF arresting Palestinian children.

    http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2014/02/10/3939266.htm

    I am astonished to see a Murdoch publication doing this.

  11. piotr
    piotr
    February 11, 2014, 11:58 pm

    To maintain academic freedom, each university administration will make a list, checking it twice, which academic organization is naughty, and which is nice. And the nice will find their socks full of reimbursements, while the naughty will get naught.

    They see you when you’re sleeping
    They know when you’re awake
    They know if you’ve been bad or good
    So be good for goodness sake!

    O! You better watch out!
    You better not cry.
    Better not pout, I’m telling you why.
    State Legislature is coming to town.

  12. ToivoS
    ToivoS
    February 12, 2014, 3:51 am

    Any academic or independent artist or scholar over the last half century knows full well that criticism of Israel can have adverse on ones ability to gain grants. This is one of the Zionists most powerful tools to suppress dissent. This is something that is not openly acknowledged but anyone who has played the fundraising game (at least successfully) knows this to be the case. In any case this story is positive news. The Zionist are now out in the open attacking those academics who criticize Israel. Not sure I am willing to raise my head above the parapet quite yet. Kudos to the ASA for flushing the Zionist out into the open. Maybe soon, more scholars dependent of external grants will be free to express their true feelings about Israel. I suspect if we all could, there could be an avalanche of feelings directed against Israel.

  13. Citizen
    Citizen
    February 12, 2014, 6:42 am

    Insane Christian Zionist Rep. Michele Bachmann Declares US Has Declared Economic War On Israel: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/foreign-policy/rep-michele-bachmann-claims-us-has-declared-economic-war-israel-audio

    • piotr
      piotr
      February 12, 2014, 8:08 am

      While “Sane Christian Zionist” sounds like an oxymoron, the representative of Minnesota’s 6th district is indeed a bit peculiar. However, I think that one can heed her words

      “President Obama and John Kerry have preferred Iran,” Rep. Bachmann claimed. “At the same time while the United States is giving a free pass to Iran, our Secretary of State is rattling a saber and effectively calling for an economic war against our greatest ally Israel. It doesn’t make any sense.”

      It is high time to restore sense to US policies and apply to Israel the treatment hitherto meted to Iran, and vice versa. We would freeze all bank accounts of Israel and give them allowance of roughly 1% of the balance per month (subject of good behavior!), while allow Iran to access their accounts freely and top it off with 300 million per month gift. Is the representative of Minnesota 6th insane or inspired?

      • piotr
        piotr
        February 12, 2014, 8:26 am

        After much thought and deliberation, Rep. Bachmann decided not to run this year. You can listen to her explanation after clicking “Michelle Bachmann for Congress”. It is a bit lengthy and I cannot listen to her voice for that long, so I still do not know why, but possibly she will be included in the unstoppable Palin/Bachmann ticket for Presidency.

  14. Talkback
    Talkback
    February 12, 2014, 8:40 am

    “Speaker Silver and Senator Klein are taking a stand against this extremist movement and in support of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas,”

    Unless the academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas results in taking a stand against extremist movements like Zionism and supports its boycott.

    Just the usual disgusting Zio-hypocrits.

  15. American
    American
    February 12, 2014, 9:37 am

    The Nation of the Tribe leaving no stone unturned to raise $$$ to fight BDS as Philanthropy?
    US Jewish venture capitalist to invest in defeating BDS?
    Good, let them waste their money. Let the US be flooded with more and more talk of Israel till every American who pays no attention to Israel starts paying attention.
    The American grapevine vr. Isr Hasbara—-my neighbors will take my word over the Anti Americans , so will yours, keep talking.

    Venture Capital Meets Philanthropy as Pro-Israel Moguls Seek New Models

    Read more: http://forward.com/articles/192555/venture-capital-meets-philanthropy-as-pro-israel-m/?p=all#ixzz2t7ERgGj7

    ”The Israel Project, a group focused on media education, asked for more than $1 million to set up a “war room,” a rapid response operations center to react to “Israel’s detractors who are successfully demonizing and shaping public perceptions.” The Jerusalem Press Club, a new media hub in Israel’s capital, requested funding to bring journalists to visit Israel. Fuenta Latina, an organization working with Latino and Latin American journalists, presented a program for helping Spanish-speaking reporters cover Pope Francis’ visit to Israel in May.”

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