Open Letter to NYS Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins

[email protected]

Dear Senator Stewart-Cousins,

As a constituent I would like to communicate my strongest possible objection to your recent vote in favor of S2492, S2493, and S4837, all springing from a misguided and repressive effort to outlaw Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – frequently through the camouflage of general penalizing of boycotts – largely on the grounds that BDS is anti-Semitic.

In the first place, as a daughter of the American Civil Rights Movement, how can you forget the role that boycotts – as in the Montgomery Bus Boycott – played in overturning Jim Crow in this country?  Do you recall how international  boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against South Africa helped to overthrow apartheid in that country?  Do you remember that very recently Governor Cuomo backed a boycott against North Carolina because of legislation in that state that discriminated against the LGBT community? 

Boycotts are conscientious, nonviolent approaches to promoting political, economic, and social change against perceived injustices. They are Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. New York State is opening itself to a barrage of lawsuits that will be costly and time-consuming if it persists in this campaign to demonize and penalize BDS and its supporters because of their opinions.  BDS calls for the protection of fundamental human rights that are civil rights in this country.

Even when such bills speak more generally about boycotts against American allies, they are aimed at BDS and assert, explicitly or implicitly, that BDS is anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism involves the promotion of hatred and discrimination against Jews as a people. BDS seeks to change Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. The former victimizes a people; the latter criticizes a state. BDS is not anti-Semitic. To assert that it is is dangerously to misuse the term “anti-Semitism” and to engage in specious unreason.

Under international law recognized by the vast majority of nations of the globe, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is illegal, and Israeli treatment of Palestinians is an abuse of human rights. Therefore, supporters of BDS act out of respect for international norms. Why would you assist in enacting NY State laws that contradict international law and moral standards?

BDS attempts to pressure Israel to act in accordance with international law. I have been to the West Bank and E. Jerusalem and observed at close hand in November 2012 what the occupation looks like. It is physically brutal and psychologically Kafka-esque  – an arbitrary and cruel imposition of shifting, unpredictable rules and regulations enforced through overwhelming force against a subject people that make their daily life an unrelenting grind. It is a policy of ethnic-cleansing: make life so intolerable that people who can leave do so, and the others drift into hopelessness and despair. That the vast majority of Palestinians resist this abusive regime nonviolently day in and day out  is a testimony to their steadfastness in the face of injustice. I was deeply shamed to see the Israeli policies abetted by U.S. connivance. Much of the equipment and weaponry  used to enforce the occupation is stamped “Made in America.”  This ugly fact does not escape the notice of the peoples of surrounding lands for whom American policy is synonymous with repression and violence.

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester would be only too happy to talk with you about Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and why BDS is probably the best way to bring the change that must come soon, or Israel’s claims to be both Jewish and democratic will be impossible to sustain before the world.

Your record of accomplishments in defending the interests of your constituents is widely recognized.I am deeply disappointed by your votes on S2492, S2493, and S4837 and can only assume that if you had had better information at your disposal, you would have voted against them. I hope that JVP-Westchester can help provide that information and will call your office soon to see about making an appointment for members to meet with you.

 Yours sincerely,

Priscilla Read

Tarrytown, NY

Posted in Blogs, Communities & Focus Areas, Director's Blog, Economic and Human Rights, Militarism and Foreign Policy, Movement Building