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Bill targeting academic groups that boycott Israel halted in New York Assembly

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. (Photo: Associated Press/Mike Groll)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. (Photo: Associated Press/Mike Groll)

There was little notice last week when the New York State Senate took up legislation to prohibit state aid from flowing to academic groups that boycott Israel.  It passed quietly–and overwhelmingly.  But when the same legislation started making its way through the New York Assembly, activists sprung into action–and have stopped it from advancing, at least for now.

Three committees in the New York Assembly did not discuss or vote on the anti-boycott legislation, a victory for the coalition of civil liberties and Palestinian rights groups that mobilized fast over the weekend to stop the legislation from passing. Activists said that Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the chair of the Higher Education Committee, announced that the anti-boycott bill was taken off the agenda for discussion yesterday. Glick also said that the legislation will be reworked, so it could come back in a different form.

“We hope that New York legislators have realized that it is inappropriate for them to deny state funds to universities in an effort to silence political speech activities that they personally disagree with. The right to engage in human rights boycotts, used to oppose segregation in the U.S. South, the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and now aimed at achieving equal rights for Palestinians, is protected by the First Amendment,” Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement. “The threat to this right will remain until the New York bill and similar bills in other states are entirely defeated.”

The bill would cut off money to students and scholars from state institutions who need aid to travel to conventions organized by the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies, all of which have voted to boycott Israel.  Those three organizations have endorsed the boycott of Israel, and many members of the New York legislature want to cripple the ability of scholars to participate in those academic groups.

The legislation also calls for punishing any school in violation of the ban with a cut-off in state aid and prohibits departments at state schools from paying membership fees to academic groups that boycott Israel. But for now, the broad coalition that pointed out that the legislation was an attack on academic freedom has won out.

Over the weekend and yesterday, many activists called in to various Assemblymembers to express opposition to the bill.  And as the Albany Times Union‘s Casey Seiler reports, a group that is normally an ally of the powerful Assembly Speaker who authored the bill, Sheldon Silver, expressed strong opposition to it.  The New York State United Teachers union issued a statement saying that the bill “violates the principles of academic freedom, the First Amendment protection of speech and protection of association.” The Professional Staff Congress, the union for City University of New York faculty, opposed the bill, and so did groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.

About seventy-five members of the Columbia University faculty also joined the pile-on against the bill.  And the New York Times published an editorial blasting the legislation.  “The New York bill is an ill-considered response to the American Studies Association resolution and would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent,” the Times stated.  “Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel.”

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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25 Responses

  1. Abu Malia on February 4, 2014, 10:40 am

    Thank you Alex. If they (big money Zios) can’t get this bill (however egregiously anti-democratic) to pass in the NY Assembly, then the times, they’ve already changed.

    Last month (allow me to digress), My wife and I drove to Denver, CO for a wedding- we usually drive if the distance is within 12 hrs because flying is tricky when you’re encumbered by an overtly Muslim sounding name. After having a lamb shank and rice at Jerusalem restaurant (please check it out if you’re ever in Denver), I went to Mr. Medicine Man’s Store for some Marijuana tourism, while in line, a fifty something male turned to me and said “it is so surreal, can you believe it – that we’re in line to buy it legally”

    I replied, rather loudly, that maybe Palestine will be free in our life times too! All around was smiles and nodding!

  2. Citizen on February 4, 2014, 11:04 am

    Really tough going for Americans who believe Free speech is a bedrock value of the USA, as the IsraelFirsters are always seeking to carve out more exceptions for rogue Israel. They also have a movement afloat in USA to conflate criticism of Israel and/or the US-Israel special relationship with “hate speech.” For precedent, they are citing Germany and other European countries who outright ban any speech or paraphernalia that is , or may be associated with Nazi Germany.

    We shall overcome, some day.

  3. piotr on February 4, 2014, 11:22 am

    I think that this is a repeating pattern. A legislation like that has much better chances to pass if it can be blocked somewhere, so NY Senate left it for the House to kill it, quietly of course.

    It is somewhat surprising that old Jewish men like Silver were promoting this law to begin with. Are they clever or stupid? In “clever” scenario, they maintain good graces and generosity of rich extremist Zionists for trying, while reassuring “do not worry” the other groups. After all, attempts to create North Korea on Hudson are not popular among NY liberals and even conservatives. (The phrasing “This is not North Korea” was used by the previous mayor of NYC when some City Council members wanted to cut funding of Brooklyn College for “sponsoring” seminar talks by BDS supporters.)

    • Linda J on February 4, 2014, 9:44 pm

      Wonderful blog on this topic from Michael J. Smith at “Stop Me Before I Vote Again”:

      It seems to me that this ludicrously damp and inconsequential leven-stroke — a fulguration that signally fails to fulminate — ought to be matter for unbridled rejoicing among the friends of Palestine and foes of Israel (among whom I number myself, though the least).

      • piotr on February 5, 2014, 9:25 pm

        I think that Michael J. Smith missed the point totally. This is a war of ideas, not some clunky material hardware!

        The narrative opens with thousands of deliberating academicians designing perhaps the most toothless resolution ever that was graced with “boycott” moniker. If you follow “tooth for tooth”, then it is only fair to retaliate with “toothless for toothless”.

        But when this retaliation flops, it warms the cockles of all friends of what is good and decent.

  4. Hostage on February 4, 2014, 12:04 pm

    But when the same legislation started making its way through the New York Assembly, activists sprung into action–and have stopped it from advancing, at least for now.

    There are key differences, but both bills violate specific guidance contained in existing Supreme Court cases on content based exclusions, and the application of the equal protection clause with regard to privileges to use public forums or even limited access forums. The texts of the bills are here:

    Glick also said that the legislation will be reworked, so it could come back in a different form.

    If it has the same legislative intent it will still be unconstitutional. So far, it looks like the Assembly is trying to use a state law to outlaw all types of boycotts, even though the Supreme Court has specifically ruled that civil rights and labor boycotts are protected by the 1st amendment. The Senate is trying to limit the content and scope of boycotts to just those two types or to any boycott against a host country listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has declared similar laws unconstitutional for making an impermissible distinction between peaceful labor picketing and other peaceful picketing.

  5. CitizenC on February 4, 2014, 12:27 pm

    It is noteworthy that the “activists” were not Jewish identified. They acted on broad liberal grounds, though no doubt many of them were Jewish. JVP opposed the ASA academic boycott, but has been drawn into urging its members to defend the action (“even if you disagree with it personally”) because exposing the rationales and forces at work advances the issue.

    This is a sharp, sad contrast to the recent “Jewish declaration” opposing NY Mayor de Blasio’s fealty to Israel. Non-Jewish New Yorkers are reduced to cheering the “good Jews” who proclaim “I’m Jewish and AIPAC doesn’t speak for me!” As if this is the ne plus ultra of morality and politics when it is self-interested and complacent.

    New York’s relationship to Israel is, need one say, an urgent matter for all New Yorkers, esp considering that 9/11 was mainly an attack on US patronage of Israel (which fact has disappeared from the culture). It is an urgent matter for all
    Americans, not to be delegated to Jewish identity politicians.

    The ASA action–against Israeli academia, not “the occupation”–raised broad issues beyond the circumscribed agenda of identity politics.

    • Hostage on February 4, 2014, 2:16 pm

      CitizenC, we get it. You have a hard-on for Jews or anything Jewish and would like to make it a social taboo.

      But many of us here, myself included, are on the JVP membership rolls and subscribe to the jvp-members mailing list. I don’t recall any hint at all of opposition to the ASA boycott or being “drawn” into it. JVP has been a part of the BDS Movement and had publicly endorsed all of the aims of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, long before the ASA adopted its own resolution and joined the crowd. Full Stop.

      Here is a link to a glowing official endorsement of the ASA boycott resolution submitted by Sydney Levy of JVP:

      Why don’t you provide links and names to back up the quotes you’ve attributed to the organization? In the past, you’ve attributed your own views to others, who actually did not say what you had claimed they had in your posts and articles.

      For example, I confronted you with verbatim citations from my old mentor Dr. Mallison on the key role played by Anti-Zionist Jews in insisting that the drafts of the Balfour declaration be amended to safeguard the rights of non-Jews, and Jews in other countries, because I happened to know that you had utterly mischaracterized the historical account written by Mallison on the subject and lied about his position on the role of the minority treaties. Mallison testified to the US Senate that Israel’s claim to territory was based upon its compliance with the terms of a minority treaty. He did not consider them an anachronism from a by-gone age as you had claimed.

      You also manufactured a claim with respect to the alleged difference of opinion between Rabbi Elmer Berger and Noam Chomsky on the factors that influence foreign policy and the role of the Jewish Lobby. I even quoted a portion of an essay written by Berger on the subject that you had cited which illustrated that you were misusing and misquoting your own sources on that particular point.

      You also misused David Landy’s book and Miko Peled’s book and lectures as the basis for diatribes about the JVP. I pointed out that both men have actually praised the work of our organization and that Landy had acknowledged the historical contributions of secular and social Jewish political movements, contrary to your allegations.

      You falsely claimed that the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation was a Jewish organization that wanted US aid to continue to flow to Israel, despite the fact that most of the member organizations are non-Jewish and they had taken out full page ads calling for an unconditional end to military aid for Israel saying: “hold Israel accountable for killing Palestinians in our name by ending US military aid to Israel.”

      So here you are once again trolling the thread about JVP, when the organization has called on members through the mailing list to sign online petitions in support of ASA and contact universities that have criticized ASA and complain.

      • notatall on February 4, 2014, 4:11 pm

        Hostage wrote: “CitizenC, we get it. You have a hard-on for Jews or anything Jewish and would like to make it a social taboo.”

        Citizen C made a reasonable objection not to “anything Jewish” but to the exclusiveness that often afflicts Jews when it comes to anything touching Israel (see above). Hostage’s remark is an offensive caricature.

      • Hostage on February 4, 2014, 11:08 pm

        Citizen C made a reasonable objection not to “anything Jewish” but to the exclusiveness that often afflicts Jews when it comes to anything touching Israel (see above). Hostage’s remark is an offensive caricature.

        No, CitizenC showed-up at Monoweiss touting an article he had written that completely misrepresented what Landy had said about JVP and secular Jews in his own book and making false claims about JVP and the US Campaign to End the Occupation that contradict the public mission statements of both organizations. He falsely complained that the US Campaign to End the Occupation is an ethnocentric Jewish organization and constantly mispresents the official positions of both organizations.

        If CitizenC has a point to make, he should try to do so without being a Grade “A” prick and a liar.

      • CitizenC on February 5, 2014, 8:09 am

        Contra Hostage, JVP does not “support” the ASA action. They “have no position on academic boycotts” as their stmt says and had nothing to do with developing it. They have been forced by the movement around it to ask their members to “defend ASA’s right to call the action even if you disagree with it”. This is pure hypocrisy and doubletalk.

        The letter of Jewish New Yorkers stating that “AIPAC doesn’t speak for me” is self-serving and complacent.  It accuses the gentiles of anti-semitism implicitly.   If “Jews” don’t speak up they will be blamed. It assumes that AIPAC’S worst can and will happen and  resistance is futile.  The only thing they can do is say “don’t blame me”.

        Resistance would point out that
        AIPAC has brought us 9/11, several wars and trillions in debt, on top of what it has done to the region directly. The authors ignore all that;  they are interested only in their Jewish selves.

        This contrasts with the attitude of We Will Not Be Silent which denounces de Blasio in the name of New Yorkers as in their rally at City Hall today.
        That’s the difference between democratic politics and Jewish politics.

      • Hostage on February 5, 2014, 1:34 pm

        Contra Hostage, JVP does not “support” the ASA action.

        The very first sentence says that we do support the ASA resolution:

        Submitted by Sydney Levy on Wed, 12/04/2013 – 10:58am Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) supports right of American Studies Association’s National Council to consider boycott of Israeli academic institutions complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

        I’ve also pointed out that there have been “action alerts” on JVP Talk about the NY state anti-boycott legislation and online petitions to show support from ASA in the face of backlash.

        JVP is not an academic institution, but we do work with academic entities in support of their own BDS initiatives. “JVP fully endorses all non-violent strategies” to achieve the aims of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee — ending the occupation, achieving equality for Palestinians now living in Israel, and recognizing Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

        The letter notes JVP has stood in support of Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israeli academics who opposed and fought the establishment of the first settler university in the Occupied West Bank and we have spoken out against the countless barriers Palestinians face in attending universities. So we have taken positions on those issues.

        The letter of Jewish New Yorkers stating that “AIPAC doesn’t speak for me” is self-serving and complacent. It accuses the gentiles of anti-semitism implicitly. If “Jews” don’t speak up they will be blamed. It assumes that AIPAC’S worst can and will happen and resistance is futile. The only thing they can do is say “don’t blame me”.

        You’re paranoid delusional. There’s nothing in the letter that implicitly blames Gentiles of doing anything or says “don’t blame me”. In fact, the letter doesn’t even blame “Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters” of anything. The letter points out 1) they are not the Mayor’s constituents; 2) it is not his job to do their bidding; 3) the Mayor should not consult AIPAC in order to determine the needs and concerns of many of his constituents. BTW, taxpayers are allowed to say “self-serving” things to their own “bought and paid for” public servants.

        Here’s the operative paragraph, it implicitly includes non-Jews among the “many constituents” whose needs and concerns are not aligned with AIPAC and notes that the U.S. Jews who signed the letter are only a subset of that group:

        We understand that the job of mayor of New York is a complex one that often calls for your participation on the international stage, and we would not presume to define your job for you. But we do know that the needs and concerns of many of your constituents–U.S. Jews like us among them–are not aligned with those of AIPAC, and that no, your job is not to do AIPAC’s bidding when they call you to do so. AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us.

        Resistance would point out that

        This is a letter from local taxpayers pointing out that the needs and concerns of the mayor’s constituents are his job, not a partisan political organization that represents a foreign government.

        That’s the difference between democratic politics and Jewish politics.

        Straw man alert. There isn’t anything undemocratic about New York Jews blasting De Blasio over his AIPAC speech. AIPAC doesn’t have the right to vote.

      • Hostage on February 5, 2014, 3:22 pm

        I just got an email forwarded from the JVP members list server about the blog of a former JVP co-director, Mitchel Plitnick

        Begin forwarded message:
        Subject: The Third Way: Oppose Anti-Boycott Maryland Bill (SB 647): Impinging on Academic Freedom and Free Speech

        Readers, I have started a petition to oppose this bill in the Maryland State Senate. It would be a severe governmental intrusion on academic freedom and freedom of speech.
        The bill was put forth in response to the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Whether or not you support the ASA decision, a law like this one must be opposed. It’s simply a bad idea. It would not only penalize any state-funded academic institution (as most are) from participating in ASA or any other association which passed a similar decision, it would even prevent individual academics from participating in conferences organized by such groups. The irony is that ASA went out of its way to make sure that individual academics would not be so constrained by their own decision.
        Please sign the petition which is directed to the Maryland legislature and governor, especially if you live in Maryland. This attempt to promote governmental interference in academic freedom and free speech must be defeated.

    • lysias on February 4, 2014, 3:13 pm

      I wouldn’t assume that the account of what happened on 9/11 that the U.S. government would have us believe is the true one.

      The JFK assassination is one example where the official account is obviously false.

      I recently read the new book in English on the Reichstag Fire, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery by Benjamin Carter Hett. The book makes clear that the orthodoxy among historians for the past 50 years or so, that the fire was set by the lone nut Van der Lubbe, is indefensible, impossible to square with the evidence. The orthodoxy seems to have prevailed as a result of Cold War politics. Since Hett’s book is published by the Oxford University Press, I assume that, when it does start to get reviewed, the reviews will be respectful.

      Hett presents evidence, so his book is a valuable one (besides the other value of its being in English — even for someone who knows German pretty well, legal terminology and technical terminology about fires can be daunting), but his basic case — that the fire was set by the Nazis, was already argued — convincingly, in my opinion — by the historian Alexander Bahar and the physicist Wilfried Kugel in their 2001 book Der Reichstagbrand: Wie Geschichte Gemacht Wird [The Reichstag Fire: How History is Manufactured, and repeated in shorter, more digestible form in their 2013 book Der Reichstagbrand: Geschichte einer Provokation [The Reichstag Fire: History of a Provocation]. Actually, that was the view of most people, including historians, from 1933 until Fritz Tobias put forward his lone nut theory in articles in Der Spiegel in 1959-60. Nazi culpability was persuasively argued by Hans Bernd Gisevius in his 1946 book Bis zum Bitteren Ende [To the Bitter End]. However, Bahar and Kugel proved that Gisevius was right and Tobias wrong by using new evidence that only became available after the fall of the Soviet Union and East Germany. But nevertheless Tobias’s view remained the orthodoxy among historians, both in Germany and in this country. Only now, with Hett’s book, is the case made by Bahar and Kugel becoming available to English-speakers who don’t read German.

    • Obsidian on February 6, 2014, 8:46 am


      “..considering that 9/11 was mainly an attack on US patronage of Israel ..”.

      Mainly? Really? Says who?

      • notatall on February 6, 2014, 10:47 am

        Osama bin Laden

      • Obsidian on February 7, 2014, 7:05 am

        And your proof Osama bin Laden said that, ‘9/11 was mainly an attack on US patronage of Israel’.

      • CitizenC on February 7, 2014, 9:40 am

        Try reading something about OBL’s views instead of talking with a chip on your shoulder, like your opponents are creationists. Start with Mears/Walt’s discussion and sources.

      • Citizen on February 8, 2014, 11:30 am

        @ Obsidian

        Try reading Osama bin Laden’s Letter To America. US support of Israel against the Palestinian people was his very first specific complaint: Full transcript:

      • Citizen on February 8, 2014, 11:42 am

        @ Obsidian

        From Wikipedia:

        “In his November 2002 “Letter to America”, Bin Laden described the United States’ support of Israel as a motivation: “The expansion of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.”[19] In 2004 and 2010, Bin Laden again repeated the connection between the September 11 attacks and the support of Israel by the United States.[20][21]
        Support of Israel was also mentioned before the attack in the 1998 Al-Qaeda fatwa: “[T]he aim [of the United States] is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.”[4]”

  6. RoHa on February 4, 2014, 11:43 pm


    I tend to follow the old adage, “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”

  7. Popsiq on February 5, 2014, 9:44 am

    Aren’t government boycotts called sanctions? And should sanctions be applied to domestic issues?

  8. on February 5, 2014, 10:52 am

    “Were the mainstream Jewish organizations that reject BDS in the name of a negotiated two-state solution actually promoting a negotiated two-state solution, their strategy might have merit. But they’re not. From theClinton parameters in 2000 to the Geneva Initiative in 2003 and talks in 2008, every serious two-state framework has envisioned a Palestinian state on at least 95 percent of the West Bank. That means either requiring many settlers to leave their homes or requiring them to give up their privileged status and live as equal citizens in a Palestinian state. Either way, it’s painfully obvious that subsidizing more Israelis to move to settlements, especially settlements too deep in the West Bank to be annexed to Israel in a peace deal, undermines negotiations toward a two-state solution. It undermines them because it increases the number of settlers who will demand to remain under Israeli sovereignty. And because it increases the number of Palestinians whose despair of Israel ever relinquishing that sovereignty and as a result advocate a single, non-Jewish, state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

    This above is from a piece in Haaretz this morning 2/5/14 by Beinart. Beinart is one of the few (almost mainstream media) who actually calls out Israel-partisans for supporting the settlements in a way that Mondoweiss might applaud. But remember that this edgy stuff (edgy for Zios, that is) he can only publish in Haaretz. It might still be too much criticism of Israel for a US newspaper or magazine to print. This of course is a major aberration of life in the USA. But we are close to the tipping point.

    Beinart’s thesis is that the mainstream Israel-partisans now criticize BDS by saying that it is spoiling the opportunity for a two-state solution. But actually they themselves have worked assiduously over the years to make that two-state solution as unlikely as possible. For example, AIPAC never publicly opposed settlement growth. Their hypocrisy is obvious and now statements of effusive devotion to the negotiated two-state solution are used by the lobby partisans in order to dismiss BDS, defining it in people’s minds as inconsistent with a two-state solution. They are hoping to suppress BDS by convincing people that it is the antithesis of a two-state solution. i.e. Scarlett is against BDS but she supports a two-state solution. Therefore BDS is bad. Got it ? What they are really trying to make you believe, is that the settlers are illegally occupying their neighbor’s land so that they can support an eventual two-state solution i.e. building factories for the Palestinians to make soft drinks after they have their own Palestinian State and get their own land back ? But naturally they don’t say this. They use tricks to confuse you and then implant in your mind the image that Scarlett is against BDS and for a two-state solution. You may not be able to explain why you believe this, but nonetheless it will be your opinion.

    The usual Israel supporters do a lot of intellectual hair-splitting or nitpicking about definitions regarding Israeli. This is because they are often well-educated smart people but also because the result is a confusion in the minds of normal people that lulls them into a state that is more likely to accept false propaganda like the above. But it is the irrational mendacity of these Israeli-partisans that is the blemish we must fight relentlessly.

    Interestingly, the internet age has made it both easier and more difficult to implant this type of false propaganda for Israel. In the past the lobby has blamed Palestinian rejectionism as the major obstacle to peace. i.e. the image implanted in your mind is (the lie) that Israel has offered peace to the Palestinians and they have rejected it. But based on the facts, this is a complete fabrication and falsehood. These days rejectionism can be the rejection of the implied Israeli right to illegally occupy Palestinians land in the West Bank. When Israel implants a false image, the solution is for us to use the same words to create the opposite image. When they use the word “canard” to imply anti-semitism all we need to do is to use the word canard to imply pro-Israeli sentiments. Just by saying “the old Israeli canard of Palestinian rejectionism” or the “Jewish canard”. This technique is a powerful antidote to propaganda of any type. We can be the confusers of those who seek to confuse us.

    Thank God for Beinart. He is voice crying in the wilderness. I do not mind if he only supports BDS against the occupied territories and does not support BDS against Israel. It is better than nothing.

  9. lysias on February 5, 2014, 12:01 pm

    I meant to say about Hett’s book not just that it presents evidence, but that it presents evidence, some of which is new (not in the Bahar/Kugel books). In my view, the most spectacular such new evidence concerns how Fritz Tobias basically blackmailed the Institut für Zeitgeschichte into accepting his lone-nut account by using information about individual historians and their Nazi-era past to which he had access as a civil servant in the German equivalent of the FBI.

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