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Just 1 of 12 Westchester County legislators stands up against anti-BDS bill — Alfreda Williams

Yesterday in White Plains, NY, the legislation committee of the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a measure rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) as “a movement that seeks to undermine Israel and malign the Jewish people.” The vote was 12-1. The video of the short meeting is here. The measure now moves on to the full board. Here are three accounts from folks who were at the meeting. 
Priscilla Read, of Jewish Voice for Peace: 
In not more than 30 minutes they approved the anti-BDS resolution. The only legislator to vote against was my own Alfreda Williams of District 8 (Elmsford, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown).  MaryJane Shimsky (District 12- Hastings and vicinity) did indicate that she was somewhat torn and referenced injustices toward the Palestinians, and Ben Boykin (Dist.5-Wh Plains, Scarsdale, Harrison) spoke of discrimination in this country, suggesting perhaps that there was some analogy but not completing the thought.
Sponsor Mike Kaplowitz, a Democrat, spoke glowingly of freedom of speech and how the Board defended and respected it and  said this resolution was the legislators’ expression of their own right to voice their opinion. James Maisano, the other sponsor, a Republican, waxed eloquent about Israel as the “beacon of democracy.”
I would have said there were twice as many of “our” people in the room as “theirs.”  Most of “us” had signs to indicate where we stood since our lips were sealed by Board decision. We had to listen to the misinformation they spouted.
Now approved, the resolution goes to the full Board for vote on Monday evening, June 19, at the 7 p.m. session. We will be there at 6:15 and try to get on the list to speak. I personally don’t think we will get them to vote against – maybe another one or two at most. But I think we might conceivably get them at least to mention in discussion that there are two sides to this issue and that Palestinians have rights.
It’s a lost cause, perhaps, but in my experience, most good causes begin as lost. In any case, I think we can justifiably claim that we prevented them from doing the Jenkins bill that he originally proposed that would actually have penalized supporters of BDS by prohibiting the County from permitting them contracts. And we have gotten some attention and begun educating board members. So even if (when) we lose on this one, I think we’ve made some progress.
Donald Johnson reports:
There was stress on the  point that this is only a resolution with no penalties attached, unlike the original proposal by Kenneth Jenkins (not present) which would have said the County could do no business with companies or individuals who support BDS.  This resolution if passed will only be an expression of the views of the legislators.  I forget who said this, but I think it might have been both of the cosponsors.
Alfreda Williams was the only one to vote against the resolution.  She said she couldn’t support it, having read all the info supplied by advocates and opponents.
Michael Kaplowitz gave a speech about how democracy and free speech are wonderful .  He said voting for the resolution didn’t mean you weren’t critical of some of Israel’s policies.  Israel isn’t perfect,  we aren’t perfect.   This resolution or similar ones have been supported by all fifty governors and every county around Westchester.
James Maisano seemed to buy wholeheartedly into the resolution.  He couldn’t see how anyone could support a boycott of Israel.  It is a bastion of democracy and Arabs there have more rights than anywhere in the Mideast.  That is a fact, he said.  He said the resolution in no way took away anyone’s free speech but it was an expression of free speech of the legislators and we could continue to debate the issues, “we” meaning everyone, after the resolution is passed, if it is passed.
MaryJane Shimsky had the most complicated ambivalent stance.  She said the original proposal by Jenkins which would have been a law was either unconstitutional or if not, in her view it should be.  She was referring to the proposal that the County could not do business with companies or people who supported BDS.
This resolution doesn’t do that.  It just expresses an opinion.  She said she probably had received the largest number of responses from her constituents on both sides and she was damned either way.  She said Israel had done some things it shouldn’t have done (more or less those words) but BDS singled out Israel.  She also said there were bad actors in the BDS movement.  So she ended up supporting the resolution.
There was conversation afterwards with various people on the part of Shimsky and a couple of others, but I don’t think that was on the record.
We peons in the audience were not part of the conversation in this meeting until it was over.  The politicians seemed to think it was a big audience.  I am guessing the audience was about 20 people or so.
I sort of felt sorry for a few of the politicians actually, except the ones who enthusiastically pushed this crap.  Some of them at least (and maybe all) probably really did get into politics to help their communities with local real world problems and here they are being pressured by what appears to be a nationwide movement to spit on Palestinian rights.  I doubt this is what they signed up for.  The audience was mostly (or entirely?) pro-BDS and we were disgusted by the outcome.
Some thanked Alfreda for her vote and others stuck around to talk to Shimsky and one or two or a few others, but I will leave that private.

Finally, here is a letter from Robert Herbst of JVP to Alfreda Williams.

Dear Legislator Williams,

I was impressed and heartened by your sole vote today against the Kaplowitz compromise resolution.

I also noted that you were the only one in the room to mention the Palestinians.

Having just returned from two weeks in Israel Palestine, I know that the oppression Palestinians face is relentless and implacable.

The BDS movement, is all about the Palestinians, and we must strive to keep their plight front and center as our movement for Palestinian rights and dignity gains support in the Jewish community, of which I am a proud member.

I hope you will speak out again next week when the resolution comes to the floor of the entire Board.

With warmest personal regards,

Bob Herbst

Priscilla Read

Priscilla Read is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Westchester

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Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017,

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13 Responses

  1. Donald on June 13, 2017, 6:26 pm

    It occurred to me reading my account that you might get the impression that the private conversations were drastically different from what was said in public.. They were not or at least not the parts I heard. I just didn’t want to repeat snippets of private conversations.

  2. RoHa on June 14, 2017, 5:21 am

    “The only legislator to vote against was my own Alfreda Williams of District 8 ”

    After the next election she will be spending more time with her family.

  3. TonyRiley on June 14, 2017, 8:22 am

    Tell the truth, Bob: BDS is a racist movement.

    • eljay on June 14, 2017, 8:34 am

      || Arafatbastard: Tell the truth, Bob: BDS is a racist movement. ||

      Israel – the nation state and homeland of non-Jewish and Jewish Israelis – is not a race.

    • Kay24 on June 14, 2017, 9:00 am

      “Racism on the part of Israeli Jews against Muslim Arabs in Israel exist in institutional policies, personal attitudes, the media, education, immigration rights, housing,[3] social life and legal policies.” Wikipedia

      Here are some of Israel’s “classy” citizens showing their love for Arabs. Racism is alive and well in Israel.

    • Misterioso on June 14, 2017, 12:24 pm


      “BDS is a racist movement”

      Au contraire, BDS is a movement against Israel’s rampant racism.

      To wit:
      “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
      EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

      In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

      “Construction, Not Destruction”
      “While Israeli Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population, Arab communities’ jurisdictions occupy just 2.5 percent of the state’s land area, and the process of approving new construction in Arab towns takes decades.” (Haaretz Editorial, April 4, 2017)
      A U.S. government human rights report released this month [March 2017] highlights grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation. The annual country reports on human rights practices, which include a specific section covering the situation of human rights in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), raises a number of issues related to ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts. It notes other grave violations against Palestinian children, including unlawful killing and excessive use of force against Palestinian children by Israeli forces.

      Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis: Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid

      To the best of my knowledge, Israel is the only country in the world that differentiates between citizenship and nationality, i.e., “Israeli” nationality does not exist, only Jews and non-Jews, and each citizen carries an appropriate identity card. While the implications of this absurdity for discrimination and racism against non-Jews are obvious, it has been upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court.

      The effect of Israel’s blatantly racist “Citizenship Law” and more than fifty other restrictions ('s) Arab citizens have to endure is well expressed by writer and Knesset member, Ahmed Tibi, “…dutifully defining the state [of Israel] as ‘Jewish and democratic,’ ignores the fact that in practice ‘democratic’ refers to Jews, and the Arabs are nothing more than citizens without citizenship.” (Ma’ariv, 1.6.2005)

      Eminent Jewish Israeli journalist Bradley Burston aptly sums up the horrors Israel inflicts on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem:
      “Occupation is Slavery”
      “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.” (Haaretz, Feb. 26/13)

      To point out the obvious Arafatbastard, your nom de plume is a classic example of racism.

    • Rooster on June 14, 2017, 3:32 pm

      Bullshit. BDS is a peaceful movement against a racist state.

  4. JosephA on June 14, 2017, 6:23 pm

    Why does this bigot hold a grudge against Yassir Arafat, and so what if Arafat was a bastard (a fatherless child)? But he was not a bastard, his father Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini was in fact a part of his life. So, I guess, why would this bigot/racist “Arafatbastard” choose such a pseudonym in the first place?

    • eljay on June 15, 2017, 7:25 am

      || JosephA: … why would this bigot/racist “Arafatbastard” choose such a pseudonym in the first place? ||

      My guess is that he’s a fan of Mike Myers who thought it would be clever to merge the names Arafat and Fat Bastard in order to:
      – score some Zionist cred; and
      – get a rise out of people.

  5. Ossinev on June 15, 2017, 7:58 am


    “Tell the truth, Bob: BDS is a racist movement”

    Can you perhaps help him out a little bit on this one by explaining? You know the usual boring stuff like facts,arguments,definitions etc. Or are you all mouth and no trousers ?

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