WASHINGTON — Penned in the shadow of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in New York City, a New York State Senate bill seeks to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Its sponsor, Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, says that the BDS movement gives legitimacy to the kind of anti-Semitic incidents that New York has witnessed in recent weeks, and that his bill will “send a strong message that New York will stand against discrimination.”
Gianaris’s bill is conceptually similar to legislation passed in the State of Illinois, and would prohibit New York State from contracting corporations or individuals engaged in the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
The Illinois law, passed in early 2015, was the first anti-BDS law with practical implications to go on the books at state level. It prevents state pension funds from investing in corporations that participate in BDS activity.
In the past, New York’s lower house passed a resolution that expressed the “will of the house” against BDS, but previous attempts to pass any sort of legislation with real-world consequences for boycott activity have so far proven elusive.
Although state legislators in New York have attempted BDS bills “with teeth” in the past, no such legislation has managed to overcome legal and procedural obstacles. One such bill, which sought to penalize academic institutions that adopted pro-BDS stances, was crushed under weight of complaints that it violated principles of first amendment rights and academic freedom.
Gianaris is optimistic, however, that the fate of this initiative will be different.
“We put a fair amount of research and work into this before I went down this road and I am comfortable with the legal standing of this proposal,” Gianaris said Friday. “I believe that the concern regarding the funding of the academic institutions was a freedom of speech issue, but in this case, this has nothing to do with speech. In this case, we’re talking about New York making its own decisions about who it invests with and who it doesn’t invest with. There have been other instances of divestment from certain companies on policy grounds. I don’t see this as any different.”
Gianaris noted that his legislation followed closely the lines of the Illinois bill, describing it as reflecting “an approach that other states have taken to a greater or lesser degree.”
The veteran legislator said that he has already heard expressions of bipartisan support for his initiative, which he said shows the widespread concern over a general rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent months.
“This is an issue that I’ve been watching and learning about, and the uptick in recent violent incidents pushed me to get more involved and play a leadership role,” said the Queens Democrat, highlighting a recent stabbing of an Orthodox Jewish medic in Brooklyn. “When you see people who are actually trying to perform a healthcare function getting stabbed randomly, these are not incidents that we can condone.
“If one digs a little bit deeper, [there is] the climate that inspires those kinds of attacks – and I believe that the BDS movement is one such impetus – in creating an environment of discrimination and hatred.”
Gianaris hopes to begin legislation when the Senate reconvenes in January. In the mean time, he begin seeking co-sponsors for the measure.
His office noted that according to the Anti-Defamation League, New York currently leads the nation in anti-Semitic attacks, with an increase of 21% last year alone. On a national level, the FBI reported that anti-Semitic attacks were the top religious-based hate crime in America.
“With anti-Semitism on the rise both at home and abroad, it is critical that we confront this hatred at its inception and send a strong message that New York will stand against discrimination,” Gianaris wrote in a statement this week. “Cloaking anti-Semitism in a shroud of false pretense will not obscure intolerant and hateful motives.”