Hundreds of protesters descended on New York State Governor Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office on Thursday, June 9th to stand against state-sanctioned suppression of the right to boycott.
Adalah NY, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! organized an emergency response to Cuomo’s June 5 executive order attacking the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the State of New York.
Rani Allan, a Palestinian-Lebanese-American student studying human rights and political science — as well as being the founder and president of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance of Hunter College — called Cuomo’s decision “an act of retaliation.”
“I think it’s a sign of our success,” Allen told Mondoweiss. “It’s a response based on fear of our movement which has been getting larger and larger with time.”
Cuomo’s executive order not only requires the state to divest from organizations that support BDS, it requires the creation of a public blacklist of entities that support the boycott.
“This executive order is unconstitutional,” Hani Ghazi, a member of Adalah NY told Mondoweiss. “It deprives Americans and New Yorkers who are constituents of Governor Cuomo from financial benefits, governmental financial contracts and funds available to them, based on their political views. It attacks their first amendment protected right to freedom of speech and expression.”
After two anti-BDS bills failed to pass the State Legislature thanks to New Yorkers’ legitimate concerns over civil liberties, Cuomo simply signed the executive order—and on the same day he participated in the Israeli Day Parade down Fifth Avenue. There is no clearer line between the pro-Israel lobby in New York State and the suppression of the nonviolent BDS movement.
Though it is likely the order will be reversed in the courts, the zeal and enthusiasm of demonstrators at Thursday’s action—organized around the Twitter hashtag #WeBDSUntil—suggests the pro-BDS factions are energized for a long battle.
The right to support BDS is inexorable, according to Jane Hirschmann of Jews Say No!, part of a larger, state-wide coalition called Freedom to Boycott.
“We have to work harder, we have to be more vigilant, and we have to do more BDS activities than ever,” Hirschmann said, undeterred. “The sentiment of New York people is that it’s only fair and just to be boycotting at this moment because of all the brutal human rights violations the Israelis have done to the Palestinians.”
“This time honored tool of voicing opposition has been going on for decades. It was okay that we did it with South Africa Apartheid, it was okay that we did it around the South and on the Jim Crow laws, and it’s absolutely okay that we’re doing it now in terms of Israel and their policies. It has to be,” added Hirschmann.
Though the law explicitly goes after BDS, activists believe it implicitly silences all human rights organizations in New York.
“[The law] scares people away from solidarity,” noted Gabrielle Spear of Jewish Voice for Peace NY. “These different organizations, who maybe are not focused on Palestinian rights but are reaching in that direction, would be scared away,” so as not to lose their funding.
But for those speaking out against the law, added Spear, “it’s a badge of honor that we are on the right side of history.”
Hirschmann, a child of Holocaust survivors, agreed. “If anything, I learned that this can never happen again to anyone anywhere, so how can the Israeli government be doing this to the Palestinian people? No more.”
The spirited demonstrators met a small contingent of counter protesters, garbed in Israeli flags and calls of anti-semitism.
A man who gave his name only as Mark told Mondoweiss that “BDS is actually hurting the Palestinians.”
He used the example of the Israeli company SodaStream, which in 2015 bowed to boycott pressure and closed its factory in the illegal West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.
“SodaStream had to close because of BDS and all the Palestinians lost their jobs. So did BDS help that specific situation?” asked Mark.
Of course, his analysis excluded mention of the nearly half century old Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the factory built on stolen land and the demoralizing, militarized reality under which Palestinians live.
Another woman holding Israeli flags was a little more pointed in her criticism of the pro-BDS movement, yelling “bomb all the Arab countries” repeatedly.
Not all the demonstrators were deadly serious.
Una Osato, a “self-loving, anti-Zionist, Japanese Jew,” performed alongside a combative Cuomo effigy, encompassing the absurdity of the Israeli occupation and Cuomo’s affront to free speech.
“It’s not over the top for the Cuomo character to say ‘silence, I don’t want to hear dissent, this is what democracy is,’ Osato told Mondoweiss.
“The things that are being said by our elected officials who are supposed to represent us,” added Osato, “it’s theater. It’s absurd theater.”