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Letter: Boycotts have a long history as protected political speech

Boycotts have a long history as protected political speech

Despite the praise heaped on them by recent letter writers, the bills recently passed by the New York State Senate, prohibiting boycotts against U.S. allies, especially Israel, are the most reprehensible assault on the freedom of political speech and action in the United States in recent memory. These bills create a McCarthy era-like blacklist of individuals, companies and nonprofits that boycott a U.S. ally, prohibiting them from doing business with the state, as well as requiring that state pension funds divest from such organizations.

This legislation is aimed directly at the worldwide BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement, which protests Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians by organizing boycotts and other protests against companies that profit from products produced in the illegally occupied West Bank Israeli settlements, and encourages divestment from those companies that profit from doing business with the Israeli state.

Boycotts have a long history as protected political speech in this country, used both within the United States during the civil rights movement, as well as to confront the actions of foreign nations, most notably against the apartheid South African regime. The Supreme Court has ruled that they clearly fall under the constitutional protections of free speech, and freedom of political action.

These bills are a blatant attempt to undermine the right to protest, and to protect Israel from the criticism that it so richly deserves. And to claim that this is somehow an anti-Semitic assault on the nation of Israel’s existence is a pathetic attempt to deflect blame. Some Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voices for Peace, actively oppose the actions of the Israeli government toward the captive Palestinians. The Assembly must vote to stop these shameful and dangerous bills that jeopardize our rights as Americans.

Eric A. Gallion