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19 Sep

The Palestine Exception to Boycotts

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The Palestine Exception to Boycotts

This week, the New York City Council passed Resolution No. 1058-A, which condemns the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli human rights abuses and violations of international law. CCR Board Chair Katherine Franke testified last week against the resolution on behalf of CCR, and we mobilized our supporters to contact their council members to oppose it. As Katherine told the committee:

The frontal attack on boycotts as a political tactic made by supporters of Israel is truly ironic given the endorsement that prominent Jewish and Zionist organizations have given to boycotts in other contexts.  For instance, American Jews convinced the World Jewish Congress to endorse a resolution calling for a boycott of German goods in 1936. And when the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of black citizens boycott of racist businesses in Mississippi in the 1960s the American Jewish Congress submitted a friend of the court brief co-authored by Nathan Dershowitz (brother of Alan Dershowitz) arguing that “politically motivated economic boycotts have a long and honored history in our nation,” and that boycotts “are forms of expression undoubtedly protected by the First Amendment.”

Just thirty years ago some of New York’s most prominent politicians strongly endorsed a financial boycott and divestment of public funds from companies that did business in South Africa. These boycott supporters included Mayor Ed Koch, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, Comptroller Harrison Goldin, union leader Victor Gotbaum, and Carol Bellamy, the City Council President.

In 2014 and 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio boycotted the St. Patrick’s Parade in New York City because of its policy of prohibiting gay groups from marching openly. Last March, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that they were boycotting the state of North Carolina, banning non-essential travel by public officials, after the state passed a law that was widely regarded as homophobic and transphobic. The Mayor went even further, threatening to boycott the state of Georgia if a law went into effect that would have allowed faith-based organizations to discriminate against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And last May the Mayor urged New Yorkers to boycott fast food chain Chick-fil-A on account of its ownership’s biased statements toward LGBT people, “I’m certainly not going to patronize them and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them.”

To claim that the boycotts endorsed by public officials in New York were premised upon an animus toward South Africans, the Irish, North Carolinians, Georgians, or chicken sandwich retailers would be absurd. What our elected officials were doing was voicing opposition toward particular discriminatory policies, and they turned to a familiar organizing tool in doing so: the boycott. No one could, or did, plausibly argue that their use of boycotts in these contexts amounted to a form of bias toward specific ethnic, religious, or regional groups.

Read Katherine’s full testimony here.

Resolution No. 1058-A follows an executive order issued by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, which requires state agencies to identify all “institutions” (which would include, for example, CCR) or companies and subsidiaries that participate in BDS and place them on a list. It also requires all state entities to – ironically – divest from any company or subsidiary on this black list. In June, CCR, Palestine Legal, and Jewish Voice for Peace filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking communications between the governor’s office and any organizations, other U.S. state executive offices and legislatures, and the state of Israel relating to the executive order.

Cuomo’s executive order and the City Council resolution are part of a broader, nationwide attack on Palestinian human rights activism in the U.S., which CCR and Palestine Legal documented in a report, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech.” This repression includes event cancelations, baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, firings, and false and inflammatory accusations of terrorism and antisemitism. CCR has committed to challenging these attacks as part of our broader work in solidarity with Palestine.

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