NYC to BDS: Do As We Say Not As We Do

(Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com)

On Sunday, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to pressure Israel to end its near half century of occupation.

Right before he headed to the annual Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, Gov. Cuomo announced his motion before a cheering audience of pro-Israel partisans where he admonished BDS supporters,

If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you. 

If you divert revenues from Israel, New York will divert revenues from you. 

If you sanction Israel, New York will sanction you. 

cuomo
(Andrew Cuomo Twitter)

The governor’s counsel subsequently told the New York Times that the executive order is meant to send a clear message that the “the B.D.S. movement is deplorable,” and then incredulously added in the next breath that the governor’s diktat shouldn’t be interpreted as “opining on actions taken to empower Palestinians.” Except, of course, the one major action chosen by Palestinian civil society that, as the counsel added, “the State of New York unequivocally rejects.” The complete lack of irony continued with the statement that the governor welcomes freedom of speech, but “it’s another thing to say I’m going to sanction you or penalize you for engaging in commercial activity.” That, however, is exactly what Gov. Cuomo intends to do against those who have altered their commercial activity in protest of the Israeli occupation:

According to the executive order, Mr. Cuomo will command the commissioner of the Office of General Services to devise a list over the next six months of businesses and groups engaged in any “boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary.”

The list will be compiled from “credible information available to the public,” according to the order, and subject to appeal by the companies and entities included on it. Once the designation process is completed, however, all executive-branch agencies and departments — which make up a large portion of state government — as well as public boards, authorities, commissions and all public-benefit corporations will be required to divest themselves of any company on the list.

Boycotts, divestment and sanctions are long-standing peaceful practices of civic resistance against injustice from the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956) during the American Civil Rights Movement, to the struggle against Apartheid South Africa, and, more recently, the boycott of the State of North Carolina after its legislature and governor supported a bill revoking LGBT rights and discriminating against the trans community. None other than Gov. Cuomo supported the boycott of North Carolina in another executive order:

On [March 28, 2016], New York governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement banning all non-essential state travel to North Carolina, uniting with his nemesis, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who joined the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco in doing the same for all city employees. “In New York, we believe that all people—regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation—deserve the same rights and protections under the eyes of the law,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Gov. Cuomo’s clear message is that BDS is good enough for New York in defense of LGBT rights infringed upon by an American state, but an “economic attack” for which the State of New York “cannot allow that to happen” when practiced in defense of Palestinian rights infringed upon (far worse, it goes without saying) by an Israeli state that is a military occupier engaged in a settler-colonial project.

Gov. Cuomo is adopting BDS tactics in his opposition to the BDS movement, boycotting the boycotters, as it were. A few companies and pension funds have decided to divest from the Israeli occupation – which this week marked its 49th year – by refusing to invest in, say, Israeli defense companies or boycotting Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Gov. Cuomo intends to blacklist and divest from these firms and funds as punishment for their divestment, and this act of BDS in defense of Israeli occupation is righteously paraded.

The irony goes further. As we previously noted,

America’s pro-Israel supporters have made no bones about their defamatory attacks against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. […]

What’s most intriguing about BDS’ opponents is that far from deploring such tactics, Israel’s supporters frequently resort to divesting from, boycotting, and sanctioning individuals who criticize Israel. Take the following recent examples:

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(Palestinelegal.org)

Y’s Public Theater cancels Palestinian production, ‘The Siege,’ it agreed to stage in May, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss – 10 Feb.

The production had already been postponed one year at the request of the Public, but with a promise to put it on this year. It was never on the official schedule; and the decision came down in recent days. I am told that Oskar Eustis, the trailblazing artistic director at the Public, was behind the show all the way. But evidently intense pressure came to bear on the Public Theater board . . . 

Lawmakers take aim at your #Right2Boycott, Palestine Legal – 18 Feb. 

A wave of anti-BDS legislation is sweeping the country. Dozens of bills aimed at suppressing or punishing BDS activism have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures – from Arizona to Massachusetts – in the past year. (See here for information on previous anti-BDS legislative initiatives.) […] 

These bills are part of a well-funded and coordinated campaign to suppress Palestine solidarity activism in the U.S., which is leading to what what we call the Palestine Exception to Free Speech.

ZOA Calls on SJP ban at 23 Schools, Palestine Legal – 25 Feb.

The ZOA is at the forefront of efforts to pressure universities to censor speech supportive of Palestinian rights by falsely conflating criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. The organization describes itself as “the oldest pro-Israel organization in America” andreceives funding from GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Harvard Law loses 250K after ‘Palestine Exception’ event, Palestine Legal – 16 Feb. 

The law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadely & McCloy reportedly pulled $250,000 from Harvard Law after a panel discussion called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack.”

Over the years, such example multiply immeasurably.

So, the point is obvious: If you oppose the subjugation of the Palestinian people, BDS’ tactics are illegitimate if not bigoted, but employing similar tactics in defense of the occupying state is a model of good citizenship.

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For decades Palestinians were told by Westerners to abandon armed resistance and adopt the methods of MLK Jr. and Gandhi – the argument being that armed attacks, especially those targeting civilians, were damaging the Palestinians cause in the eyes of many in the West and a peaceful method of resistance would win them supporters. Most Palestinians are now committed to non-violent resistance against Israel, which range from weekly demonstrations and protest marches to, of course, the growing BDS movement. When Palestinians engaged in armed resistance, it was labeled terrorism even when the target was the Israel Defense Forces. Now that they’ve taken up boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, Zionists protest that it’s “de-legitimization” of Israel. The message to the Palestinians is that no form of resistance to their oppression and dispossession is legitimate in the eyes of Israel and its American partisans. The implicit counsel to the Palestinians is to wait patiently until Israel sees fit to recognize their rights and end its occupation. Palestinians and their solidarity activists have, not surprisingly, grown tired of waiting.

And to the charge that BDS is somehow unfair because it targets Israeli companies that operate in the West Bank and profit from a captive Palestinian labor force (such as SodaStream) and pressures artists to boycott Israel akin to the artistic boycott of Apartheid South Africa, the words of former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami in response to Israeli protests against the Palestinian intifada are even more fitting here: “Accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking the rules to attain its rights do not have much credence.”

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