Gov. Andrew Cuomo: 'If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you'

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning state business with organizations associated with an anti-Israeli boycott movement. Other states are making similar moves. 

Suzanne Plunkett/AP/File
Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo marches in the 2002 Salute to Israel parade. Cuomo announced an executive order banning state business with organizations associated with a movement to boycott Israel before Sunday's 2016 Salute to Israel parade.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Sunday banning state business with companies and organizations associated with a movement to boycott Israel. The move elicited strong reactions on both sides of the contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Governor Cuomo's executive order requires all state agencies to divest their money and investments from companies and institutions that participate in boycott, divestment, or sanction activity against Israel.

The executive order comes in response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement established by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and promoted by activists worldwide encouraging a boycott of Israeli companies, divestments from organizations that support Israel and encouraging sanctions against Israel. 

The BDS campaign has seen support in Europe, Canada, on US college campuses and among celebrities, including Lauryn Hill, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, the Pixies, and Roger Waters, former lead singer of Pink Floyd. BDS organizers say they are using nonviolent means to promote the Palestinian struggle for independence.

But Cuomo is pushing back. 

Although Cuomo's decree was the first executive order to address the issue, according to a press release from the governor's office, other states have passed or are working to pass similar legislation. South Carolina became the first state to enact a similar law, the New York Times reported, and the Illinois state legislature has also passed an anti-BDS bill. At the federal level, trade legislation that includes encouraging the boycott of foreign companies that support the BDS campaign could be voted on this month, the Times reported.   

Following the signing of the South Carolina bill by Gov, Nikki Haley Thursday, Willem Griffioen, executive director of the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), released a statement applauding South Carolina but stating work on the issue had just begun.

"The timing and importance of this groundbreaking legislation cannot be overstated," he said in the statement. 

Mr. Griffioen added that the IAF is planning to lead legislative battles against the BDS in all 50 states, and that legislators in 18 states had already committed to pushing for similar legislation. 

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, told The Times that the New York executive order and legislation in other states were an aspect of Israel's "legal warfare" against the movement.  

“Having lost many battles for hearts and minds at the grass-roots level, Israel has adopted since 2014 a new strategy to criminalize support for B.D.S. from the top,” he told the Times. 

The executive order mandates the commissioner of the Office of General Services to create a list of organizations that support BDS over the next six months. After that process is completed, executive-branch agencies and departments, public boards, authorities, commissions and all public-benefit corporations will be required to divest their investments, the Times reported. 

The state senate in New York had already passed an anti-BDS bill, an its state assembly counterpart is in committee. An earlier piece of anti-BDS legislation in the senate was pulled after New York’s Freedom to Boycott Coalition delivered a letter signed by more than 100 organizations to state legislators in New York, progressive magazine Salon reported. The letter stated the legislation would create "unconstitutional blacklists" of "individuals and/or entities that exercise their constitutional right to utilize boycott as a form of free speech."

"Should such a bill become law, it would chill and deter constitutionally protected speech by intimidating people from engaging in political actions for fear of being blacklisted," the letter said. 

On Sunday, Cuomo told The Times he wanted "immediate action" on BDS, joking that passing legislation can "often be a tedious affair". 

"This order sends the message that this state will do everything in its power to end this hateful, intolerant campaign," Cuomo said in a statement. "New York and Israel share an unbreakable bond and I pray that the Israeli and Palestinian people will find a way to live side by side and find peace, prosperity and security."

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