Anti-BDS bills in New York ‘seek to unconstitutionally punish human rights boycotts of Israel’

A memorandum released by Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the New York branch of the National Lawyers Guild, opposes two anti-boycott bills currently in the New York state legislature.

The two bills, one of which has already passed through the state senate and will be reviewed by the Assembly, blacklists entities which boycott Israel or encourage a boycott. The state would then be prohibited with making contracts with, or investing in, blacklisted individuals or companies.

The two bills are a violation of the First Amendment and a form of McCarthyism because it criminalizes certain political opinions, according to Palestine Legal.

“The lawmakers who support these bills are not only out-of-touch with the growing movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, they are also out-of-touch with the U.S. Constitution,” Palestine Legal Staff Attorney Rahul Saksena said.

The bills are not the only legislation recently put forward in attempts to thwart the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the U.S.

In 2015, at least 22 such bills were introduced across the country, mostly promoted by pro-Israel lobbying groups. The proposed legislation often attempted to criminalize human rights activism on the issue of Palestine, while conflating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.

Illinois passed a bill in 2015 which “[p]rohibits a State agency from entering into a contract…with a business that boycotts Israel.”

That bill, like the one that just passed in the New York state senate, requires the creation of a blacklist. However, the Illinois law specifically targets international companies, while the New York bills would apply to entities in the United States.

Palestine Legal released a joint memorandum with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild South Florida chapter, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in October 2015 condemning an almost identical bill in Florida. Like the legislation in New York, the groups said it violated the First Amendment.

New York State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz replied to a request for comment calling the boycott of Israel “anti-Semitic” and did not address the concerns about constitutionality.

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has created a page for New York state citizens to find their representatives and voice their opposition to the bills.

Cara Piraino

Cara Piraino is a student at the University of Chicago studying Arabic and the modern Middle East. She is an active member of UChicago Students for Justice in Palestine.

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