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Activists descend on Cuomo NYC office to defend right to boycott

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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.

 (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

(Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

“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.

Jane Hirshmann (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

Jane Hirshmann (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

“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.

 (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

(Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

“[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.”

 (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

(Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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12 Responses

  1. joecatron on June 11, 2016, 12:35 pm

    “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.”

    This really isn’t true. I suggest that everyone who’s interested in this issue take the time to *read the dumb thing.* It’s neither long nor complicated, and is quite clear on what it does and does not do:

    In short, it concerns investments by public agencies. No contracts; no grants; and absolutely nothing else.

    • John O on June 11, 2016, 12:54 pm

      Thanks for the link, but I stopped reading after the first sentence:

      “WHEREAS, the State of Israel is a critical and invaluable ally of the United States; “

      • joecatron on June 11, 2016, 1:01 pm

        You’re free to stop reading, as long as you don’t later pretend to know what it says.

      • John O on June 11, 2016, 5:13 pm

        @Joe Catron

        Israel is nobody’s “ally”. Since it has no accepted borders (by its own choosing), no other country can commit itself to an alliance defending Israel’s territorial integrity. The words “critical” and “invaluable” are mere verbiage.

        Why read more of a document so badly constructed?

    • ritzl on June 11, 2016, 1:26 pm

      Joe, I probably misunderstood your comment. Are you saying “divest their money and assets” does NOT mean cancelling or proscribing state contracts with entities and/or people on the list?

      I really don’t know what “divest” means there. It’s either the broad meaning of government contracts or some narrow meaning applying to relatively rare situations where NY actually, non-contractually, invests in some form public-private partnership (eg. providing a building for a long-term program).

      Have to say though, that the narrow meaning could actually be construed broadly and pernisciously if say sidewalks used for this protest got zealously classified as “investment” under this EO (or meeting rooms in colleges, or colleges that provide meeting rooms, etc.). That may all seem ridiculous, but then so does the whole EO. If “they” can be so obviously unconstitutional in crafting this, “they” can and probably will do anything they want.

      The EO seems pretty vague to me. Whether that means it is intended only for show/to make a point/secure Cuomo’s campaign contributions, or to enable a very real and ruthlessly-cast broad net, it’s hard to tell, for me anyway.

      Hope the unconstitutionality makes any of this deciphering moot.


  2. ritzl on June 11, 2016, 12:48 pm

    It needs to be pointed out, apparently repeatedly, that when Sodastream closed its factory in Occupied Pakestine it could have kept those “valued” Palestinian employees except that Israeli Apartheid “legally” prohibited them from working in the new location (20km and a company bus ride away).

    BDS forced the move but had ZERO to do with any lost jobs for Palestinians.

    Good action protesting Cuomo and EO157.

    • klm90046 on June 11, 2016, 8:25 pm

      Even if some hundred Palestinians lost their SodaStream jobs because of BDS, that’s a small price to pay for the goal of ending Zionist occupation of Palestine. Some damage of this kind is unavoidable in a major struggle for freedom. Call it friendly fire. Just look up the history of wars of independence.

    • Talkback on June 12, 2016, 4:36 am

      The truth about the settlement industry:

      “The World Bank estimates that Israeli activities in Area C — including land restrictions and water siphoning — cost the Palestinian economy about $3.4 billion a year, or about 35 percent of its GDP. …

      Dispossessed of their land and prevented from establishing their own businesses by restrictive Israeli permit laws, Palestinians often have little choice but to accept jobs working for Israeli manufacturers, where they are grossly underpaid and subject to state-facilitated abuse from their employers. …

      Palestinian workers often earn about 8 shekels (or two dollars) an hour, one-third of the Israeli minimum wage. … To make matters worse, Palestinian workers rely on work permits issued by the Israeli military to seek and hold down jobs in the settlements, making them uniquely vulnerable to retaliation by hostile employers.

      The settlement industrial zones don’t empower Palestinians — they exploit them. According to the HRW report, to claim otherwise amounts to nothing more than “a poor excuse for labor abuses.” But that doesn’t stop some settlers from trying.”

      Modern slavery. I encourage everyone to read the whole article.

    • Elizabeth Block on June 13, 2016, 9:53 am

      It should also be noted that while SodaStream is no longer on stolen land in the West Bank, it is now on land stolen from the Bedouin. They are Israeli citizens, but that doesn’t stop Israel from kicking them off their land.
      I was there in March, and there was a story in the papers about a major in the IDF who had just received a notice that his home was to be demolished. He was a Bedouin. The Bedouin have supported the state, joined the army (!) — for how long?

  3. Sibiriak on June 11, 2016, 1:56 pm

    Joe Catron: , it concerns investments by public agencies. No contracts; no grants; and absolutely nothing else.


    Every investment by a public agency involves a financial contract as well as “funds [made] available” and “financial benefit” to the receiving entity.

    So I don’t see what’s inaccurate about the statement:

    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.

    • MHughes976 on June 11, 2016, 3:03 pm

      Yes, I think that’s right. A commercial organisation whose shares are sold on ethical or allegedly ethical grounds stands to have its share price reduced and its reputation tarnished, which would impact on the wages and job security of its employees. Furthermore it’s impossible to imagine that a company suffering from divestment by the State would be able to do business as a supplier to or partner in any State enterprise. If the State merely sold shares but continued to do business in other ways it would face extreme ridicule for hypocrisy, more than even a normally cynical,politician could stand.
      However, I think that in all the circumstances this ‘dumb thing’ – did that mean ‘damn thing’? – is not really meant to have any great effect. It’s a symbolic ‘expression of abhorrence’, as many boycotts are. This time it’s us who get abhorred.

  4. Kay24 on June 11, 2016, 2:21 pm

    It is heartening to see many people protesting a morally defunct Governor who is so obviously wants to please those who will help him win elections. Isn’t that what most our politicians have to do to win? Cuomo is already in some hot water, and that should make New Yorkers think hard before voting for him again.

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