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Boycott activists protest New York governor’s anti-BDS edict

Praised by pro-Israel groups, critics say Andrew Cuomo’s executive order raises questions of constitutionality and human rights

Protesters during a rally in the War Room at the state Capitol on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Protesters during a rally in the War Room at the state Capitol on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians staged a protest Wednesday against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order prohibiting state investments in any company that support a boycott of Israel.

A group of more than 100 people gathered outside the Democratic governor’s office, chanting loudly before attempting to deliver a petition to Cuomo seeking the reversal of his executive order.

Speakers at the rally organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the BDS movement seeking a boycott of Israel, say the state is violating the constitutionally protected free speech of business owners by treating them differently than others simply because of their political opinions.

Cuomo’s executive order was issued this month. He has said it is intended to support Israel and protect it against the threat of boycott or sanctions.

He called it the first of its kind anywhere in the country, as the move drew praise from pro-Israel groups and condemnation from others.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo attending the Cadillac House grand opening in New York City, June 1, 2016. (Mike Pont/WireImage/Getty Images/via JTA)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo attending the Cadillac House grand opening in New York City, June 1, 2016. (Mike Pont/WireImage/Getty Images/via JTA)

Like anti-BDS measures passed in other states, Cuomo’s order bans New York state agencies and departments from investing in companies or groups that, as a policy, promote or engage in boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel. The order also requires the state to draw up a public list of companies that engage in or promote BDS.

Cuomo’s order stands out, however, as it enacts opposition to BDS in the fourth-most populous state — and the home to the largest number of Jews in the country. And it places Cuomo, a prominent governor and national figure, at the center of the American debate over Israel.

Praised by pro-Israel groups, the order has engendered backlash in the left-wing press and among anti-Israel activists. Publications lambasted it as “McCarthyism” and said it violates First Amendment rights.

Cuomo has been an outspoken supporter of Israel and has made several trips to the country. He’s also attended several Celebrate Israel Parades in New York, including last year’s.

The BDS movement, started in 2005, campaigns for a global boycott of Israel until, among other demands, the country withdraws from all territories claimed by the Palestinians, as well as the Golan Heights.

In Israel and among many in Jewish communities abroad, the movement is seen as a nuisance, at best, and a threat to Israel’s image and economic activity, at worst.

JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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