New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched what has been described as a blatantly unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech. He has also been accused of establishing a dangerous precedent reminiscent of McCarthyism. In a fierce crackdown on those critical of Israeli occupation, Cuomo ordered agencies to divest from companies and organisations aligned with the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Describing the BDS movement as an economic attack on Israel, Cuomo’s executive order requires the New York State Office of General Services to create a blacklist of institutions and companies involved in the BDS movement. All state agencies will be required to divest from such companies.
In declaring the executive order sends a strong message against a “hateful, intolerant campaign,” Cuomo joins a long line of political leaders who assist in the whitewash of Israel’s war crimes by painting the BDS movement as anti-Semitic — an intentional misrepresentation that is particularly ironic in view of the fact the campaign is endorsed by Israeli citizens and Jews worldwide.
In February, the British government also launched a significant assault on political freedom by seeking to shield Israel from the growing pressure of the BDS movement. The controversial crackdown could see local councils, public bodies, and even university student unions in the U.K. banned by law from boycotting “unethical” companies.
But, just as the boycott call regarding Apartheid South Africa was not racist against white South Africans, neither are legitimate political actions of the grassroots BDS campaign anti-Semitic. Consequently, the executive order has sparked outrage from activists fighting for Palestinian human rights and against Israeli settler colonialism, military occupation, and repeated military offensives on besieged Gaza.
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, called the move “a McCarthyite attack on a movement for justice.” She added that the order shows how out of touch the political leadership is with the growing number of Americans who support the use of nonviolent tactics to achieve freedom and equality for Palestinians.
More worryingly, the New York Times reports several states have moved to support Israel and prevent governments and agencies from trading with companies or individuals who endorse boycotts. Similar bills have been introduced in both houses of the New York legislature, and a Republican-sponsored bill passed the state senate in January.
At the same time Cuomo launched his chilling plan to punish human rights advocates — the same week Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza entered its 50th year — Human Rights Watch called on the International Criminal Court to open a formal probe into war crimes committed in Palestine. “After nearly half a century of impunity, it’s time that those responsible for some of the gravest crimes pay the price,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.
While few hold their breath waiting to see Israel in the dock for war crimes, others undoubtedly want the right to choose how they spend their money in the meantime. Grassroots activists, CODEPINK, have launched a petition calling for Executive Order Number 157 to be repealed, claiming New York State has no business curbing political speech by instituting the McCarthyite blacklist. You can sign it here.
* * *