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Another Voice: Legislation would undermine the right to boycott

By Jim Anderson and Michael Zak

The New York State Legislature is currently considering a bill that threatens to undermine the rights of New Yorkers to engage in economic acts of conscience – namely boycotts – related to human rights abuses.

Bill A9036, which is making its way through the Assembly, would create a blacklist and prevent individuals and companies participating in boycotts related to allied countries (including Israel) from doing business with the state of New York, and would force the state’s pension fund to divest from such companies. This includes boycotts of products made in Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, which are a violation of official U.S. policy and international law.

Boycotts are a form of constitutionally protected free speech. They have a long and honorable history, playing important roles in the American Civil Rights and labor rights movements, as well as the international campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

This bill, which threatens that right, is just one of a series of similar bills introduced and/or passed in several states across the country, and is part of an effort to suppress supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian freedom and human rights.

Lawmakers supporting S6378A/A9036 are undermining decades of U.S. foreign policy and attempting to legitimize Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and blur the line between Israel’s internationally recognized borders and the occupied Palestinian territories. In the process, they are undermining efforts to end Israel’s occupation and bring about peace in the region. They also support a dangerous precedent, threatening our civil right to pursue human rights through boycotts, divestment or sanctions.

BDS has growing support from Americans and has been endorsed in some form by major U.S. Christian denominations like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodists and the United Church of Christ, as an effective way to support Palestinians struggling peacefully for their freedom. Palestinians in the occupied territories are relegated to second-class status.

The Western New York Peace Center and PeaceAction New York State, pursuing peace, justice and human and civil rights, support the use of free speech, nonviolent direct action and civic and economic engagement to resolve conflicts.

We urge state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support both the First Amendment and Palestinian freedom. Quick and decisive action must be taken to stop this legislation threatening our civil liberties and constitutional rights before it is too late.

Jim Anderson is the president of PeaceAction New York State. Michael Zak is the board chairman of the Western New York Peace Center.