Cuomo’s modern-day witch hunt

June 9, 2016

Ryan de Laureal reports on the executive order from New York's Democratic governor to target the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in solidarity with Palestine.

NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order Number 157 on June 5, calling for a state-level financial boycott against any organizations that are found to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.

Cuomo's order is not only a boycott against a nonviolent political movement that seeks justice for the Palestinian victims of the Israeli state. It's a boycott against the U.S. Constitution, international law and human rights--coming straight from a leading figure in the supposedly more "progressive" of our two main political parties.

The anti-BDS executive order is breathtaking in its authoritarianism and hypocrisy, and not only because Cuomo is essentially saying that boycott campaigns are wrong and thus should be boycotted.

Taking a page from the McCarthy-era playbook of blacklisting communists and other dissidents, Cuomo is directing the state to keep a public register of organizations involved in the BDS movement--and requiring that all state agencies under his authority completely dissolve financial ties to those organizations.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Marc A. Hermann)

The order stipulates that "the state of New York does not support boycott-related tactics that are used to threaten the sovereignty and security of allies and trade partners of the United States." This is a blatant--though commonly repeated--misrepresentation of the aims of the BDS movement.

The notion that calling on Israel to respect international law and cease infringing on the legal rights of Palestinians constitutes a threat to the sovereignty and security of a heavily militarized state that receives over $3 billion in U.S. military assistance annually is a logical peculiarity to say the least--and a revealing one about Israel's basic policies.

The irony, as noted in the Nation by U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation Director Yousef Munayyer, is that Palestinians have been demonized in the past for using violence against the Israeli occupation--and now they are being told that nonviolent resistance is equally invalid.

"The message to Palestinians is clear," Munayyer writes, "No resistance to the denial of your human rights is legitimate, because you have no legitimate claim to human rights.

Palestine Legal declared Cuomo's action to be "a blatantly unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech," and warned that it "would chill First Amendment-protected activities by requiring persons to avoid or renounce such activities before they can be considered beneficiaries of public funds."

The statement also noted that "[b]oycotts are a constitutionally protected form of speech, association and assembly, and have a long history of being used successfully to address injustice and demand political change."

Indeed, as Munayyer and others pointed out, it was only a few months ago that Cuomo announced a boycott of North Carolina in response to that state's passage of an anti-LGBT law.

CUOMO'S EXECUTIVE order is the latest in a wave of attacks against BDS in the U.S. and internationally.

Advocating a peaceful boycott can get you arrested and fined in France on charges of "discrimination", while Canada has threatened to criminally prosecute BDS advocates, and the British government has barred student unions and public bodies from boycotting Israel.

In the U.S., anti-BDS legislation has already been enacted in nine states, and introduced in a number of others. Palestine Legal documented 240 incidents of suppression--"which included baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, bureaucratic barriers, and false accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism"--in 2015 alone.

As ominous as these developments are, Palestine supporters should understand that this escalating repression is taking place because our side is winning real victories.

Since 2003, dozens of student bodies and organizations across the country have adopted pro-BDS resolutions. Just in New York City this year, pro-BDS resolutions were passed by the doctoral council of the City University of New York and New York University's Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC), a union of graduate academic workers that voted two-to-one to endorse BDS despite interference from the UAW's local leadership.

Cuomo's executive order is a gift to university administrations trying to resist the BDS surge, allowing them to claim that they can't risk losing state funding by allowing students and campus workers to vote on a boycott.

Because Cuomo's boycott of a boycott is such a blatant violation of civil liberties, many commentators argue that it is actually a sign of weakness and even panic from Israel's defenders. There is an element of truth here, and it is also likely that New York's executive order won't survive a court challenge.

But we can't afford to be complacent. As Mondoweiss founder Phillip Weiss notes, Cuomo's executive action is just one element of a larger backlash of Democrats fighting to keep their party's tradition of total and automatic support for Israel.

In response, Palestine solidarity groups have called for a protest on Thursday, June 9 outside Cuomo's office to declare that "we will proudly continue to stand for justice and boycott Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian human rights!"

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