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NY State Senate Bills Challenge Freedom of Speech


CHACAR: Depending on your point of view, BDS either promotes Palestinian human rights, or discriminates against Israel. Now, a couple of bills in the New York State Senate might decide for you.

Senators Michael Gianaris and Jack Martins, representing neighborhoods in Queens and Long Island respectively, have sponsored two separate but similar bills in the New York State Senate in January, to stop the spread of the movement.

SHAKIR: What that would mean in practice is, I mean, the state would keep records of people who endorse things, and would update this list. You can imagine the chilling effect.

CHACAR: That’s Omar Shakir, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. The bills will also make it illegal to do business with or invest in entities on that list. For Shakir, this is troubling.

SHAKIR: Many people will be afraid to sign petitions, attend group meetings, endorse Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions if they feel it could come at the expense of their professional careers, personal interactions and relationships.

CHACAR: The legislation comes as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement gains traction in the U.S. and worldwide. In 2015, major academic institutions endorsed the BDS campaign, including the American Anthropological Association Conference and the U.S. National Women’s Studies Association. But for some, like Avi Posnick, the movement itself is racist. He’s the New York managing director of Stand With Us, an advocacy group defending and promoting Israel’s policies.

POSNICK: The boycott movement against Israel singles out Israel. We therefore will use all means in order to defeat this movement.

CHACAR: Not all opponents of BDS agree with the current bills. Noam Gilboord, from the Jewish Community Relations Council, doesn’t think outlawing the BDS movement is a realistic goal.

GILBOORD: It’s not that we’re trying to silence BDS voices, it’s that we are here trying to make sure that the BDS narrative, which poses Israel as the bad guys and Palestinians as the good guys, is not the only narrative in the public discourse.

CHACAR: For those actively working against the proposed legislation, the public discourse is exactly what’s at stake. This is Rahul Saksena, an attorney from the advocacy group Palestine Legal.

SAKSENA: Regardless of how you feel about the issue of Palestine and Israel, I think everybody should agree that our right to speak out on important political issues is valuable to our society, and is necessary to a strong democracy.

CHACAR: Meanwhile, one bill has only passed the committee vote, and the other received wide support in the senate, with fifty-five senators voting in favor. Senators Gianaris and Martins were not available for comment. Henriette Chacar, Columbia Radio News.


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