“Boycott is a tool for social justice”– Albany rally shows growing backlash to executive order on BDS

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Contact: Alice Brody, abrody07@verizon.net

“Boycott is a tool for social justice”– Albany rally shows growing backlash to executive order on BDS
New Yorkers traveled from across the state to rally and deliver a petition to Governor Cuomo

Albany, NY (June 15, 2016)–New Yorkers from all over the state gathered in Albany to call upon Governor Cuomo to rescind his unconstitutional executive order against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian human rights. Over 200 people rallied outside the governor’s office and delivered a petition signed by 12,000 people. Speakers included Assemblyman Phillip Steck, Kathy Manley of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Alana Krivo-Kaufman of Jewish Voice for Peace, Reverend Barbara Toll of the United Church of Christ, Rani Allan of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance and Rosa Clemente of Black Lives Matter-Upstate NY.

On Sunday June 5 Governor Cuomo issued an executive order requiring the state to blacklist and withdraw investments in companies and organizations that participate in boycotts or divestments from Israel’s human rights abuses. The order has been met with criticism as an unconstitutional infringement on political speech to put pressure on the Israeli government to respect Palestinian rights.

Carolyn Klaasen, a Jewish Voice for Peace member from New York City to express opposition to Governor Cuomo’s order, said: “New York state should not be punishing political speech. Boycotts have had a long history of being used as a tool for social justice movements, and the movement for Palestinian rights should not be singled out for censorship. This executive order sets a dangerous precedent.”

New York State Assemblyman Phillip Steck spoke at the rally: “As an attorney practicing in the field of civil rights law, it has always been unlawful to retaliate against a citizen for his or her opinions. Regardless of how strongly I feel that Israel has a right to exist, Israeli citizens criticize their government all the time, and people here have a constitutional right to criticize Israel without facing retaliation from the government.”

Reverend Barbara Toll of the United Church of Christ, said: “For decades my denomination, has been committed to supporting a just peace in Israel/Palestine. We have asked ourselves and our partners in the region how we, as American Christians, can be in solidarity with those who are tirelessly struggling to end the occupation. As a church, we have a right to engage in non-violent action to bring about change, including using boycotts as tools of economic leverage.” The UCC General Synod voted in 2015 to divest from companies that profit from or that are complicit in violations of human rights arising from the occupation of the Palestinian Territories by the state of Israel, and to boycott goods produced in or using the facilities of illegal settlements located in the West Bank.

The NYCLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal and other civil liberties advocates have called the executive order  unconstitutional, and promised that it “will certainly invite legal challenges.”

“The NYCLU was very clear in opposing a proposed bill in the NYS Legislature which would have done what Cuomo has now done unilaterally,” said Kathy Manley, vice president of the Capital Region Chapter of the NYCLU. “The Supreme Court has clearly established that politically motivated economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and also that the First Amendment prevents governments from banning companies from government business because of their political affiliation. This executive order violates the core values of the First Amendment.”

Governor Cuomo’s executive order is the latest escalation of nationally coordinated efforts to suppress growing support for Palestinian rights. Wednesday’s protest followed a demonstration that drew hundreds of people to Governor Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan offices on June 9. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement seeks to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and human rights abuses towards Palestinians. Recent polls found that over one third of Americans support the BDS movement and criticism of Israel is growing as Israel’s leadership and policies become more explicitly racist and repressive.

Alana Krivo-Kaufman of Jewish Voice for Peace reminded demonstrators what is at stake: “Social movements are the only thing that will bring true safety and dignity for marginalized people. That’s why we’re here, this week, as we and the world are grieving the horrific attacks at Pulse Nightclub on the Latin@ LGBTQ community of Orlando. Our social justice movements need all the tools for the fight against homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and racism. We are here fighting for right to organize, our right to boycott, and for Palestinian human rights.”

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