The City Council passed a resolution today seeking to condemn a movement calling for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, following a tense, racially-charged debate that saw Council members disagreeing over the movement’s objectives and rights.
The resolution, introduced by Councilman Andy Cohen in May, condemns all efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the people of Israel.
The resolution says the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement—known as BDS—ignores the world’s “myriad despotic regimes,” that BDS movement leaders and supporters engage in “unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric” but that it believes both Israelis and Palestinians “have the right to live in safe and secure states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition.”
The heated discussion saw Council members frequently surpassing the one-minute speaking time limit, and being told by Public Advocate Letitia James—who tried to cut members off when their time was up—to continue in general discussion.
Councilman David Greenfield, who is Jewish, stressed that the Council is not taking away people’s First Amendment rights. He says “those activists still have the right to be bigots, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic,” but that the Council would be “simply condemning anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity.”
“All we’re saying in the Council today is, for those of you who have the beliefs, we in the Council condemn you and your beliefs and your actions,” Greenfield said.
But proponents of the BDS movement—which include civil rights attorneys, community groups and racial and social justice activists—say the resolution curtails freedom of speech in New York around what they say is Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights.
In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order banning the state from contracting with entities that support boycotts and divestment campaigns. Mayor Bill de Blasio himself rejected the BDS movement last month and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is among the resolution’s supporters.
Mark-Viverito rejected the premise that the resolution hurts free speech, noting that the movement is “philosophically against the right of Israel to exist.”
“That is not what we’re doing here,” she said.
At a hearing on the resolution last week by the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, officers kicked out opponents of the resolution who were shouting.
Linda Sarsour, a prominent Arab-American activist, said Council members “have failed us” by voting for a resolution that violates First Amendment rights.