Reaction to Governor Cuomo’s Criminalization of BDS

by Myles Hoenig on July 9, 2016


Myles Hoenig

Governor Andrew Cuomo is not a good Jew.

Governor Cuomo of New York seems to be violating the spirit of the Talmud when he criminalizes support for BDS. According to Orthodox Rabbi Don Seeman, “Yet while piety requires that we should control our own speech very closely, it also requires that we should be cautious about any attempt by the government or even by religious communities to suppress speech through force.”

Conservative Rabbi Mark Greenspan feels that in Jewish law freedom of speech is ‘defined by communal responsibilities and obligations.’ But according to American law, freedom of speech is ‘structured to protect the individual from governmental controls.’

Reform Rabbi Joseph Blair reminds us that Judaism values ‘the ability to speak one’s mind, and particularly to ‘tell truth to power’.

We have seen for decades that any attempt to criticize Israel is often the death knell of one’s career, whether it’s in academia or journalism. Until recently, no mainstream news report would dare to even acknowledge that Palestinians are living under occupation by the Israelis. The mainstream of all political parties, the Democrats, refuse to even mention the word occupation in its 2016 Platform. The assault on Norm Finkelstein by Alan Dershowitz in 2005 attests to the enormous power of the Zionist lobby to do all it can to discredit such critics and destroy their very lives (professionally). Finkelstein, openly critical of the uber-Zionist Dershowitz, exposed him for his plagiarism and lies in his book The Case for Israel. As a result, Dershowitz was able to have Finkelstein’s tenure quest denied at DePaul University.

There has been an incredible assault on critics of Israel over the years.

“California professor under attack for opposing “study in Israel” scheme”

“Yes, all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!”  Op Ed, Jerusalem Post

Response To Common Inaccuracy: Israel Critics are Anti-Semites.

Inaccuracy: Jews unfairly label anyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite.

To quote Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers who said in 2002 in reaction to an anti-Israel divestment campaign on campus, such advocacy is “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.” 

“Israeli minister: Criticizing Israel is the new anti-Semitism” (Referring to  Israel’s justice minister, Ayelet Shaked)

Howard Jacobson: Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is

Emotions have run high over recent events in Gaza. And in this impassioned and searching essay, our writer argues that just below the surface runs a vicious strain of ancient prejudice.

What happens when you criticize Israel?

Attack on BDS from ‘liberals’.

“Why Liberals Must Repudiate the BDS Movement”

“A Leftist’s Critique of BDS”

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman stated his reason for not writing about Israel:

The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going. It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide — and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world. But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.

However, there is a bit of a sea change. More and more outlets are openly siding with the plight of Palestine at Israel’s expense. Occasionally, there’ll be a squeak. Bob Simon of 60 Minutes aired a piece on the exodus of Christians in Israel, especially in Bethlehem. However, the attacks on him and CBS were relentless. Israel and its lobbyists and supporters tried to suppress the piece before it even appeared. Simon had also reported on the Israeli apartheid fence and many other stories on Israel.

Perhaps today one can look at real leftist websites, Electronic Intifada, Democracy Now, even Haaretz, the prominent Israeli newspaper, to find real criticism of Israel and/or support of BDS. But nowhere in mainstream media in the US can one utter a word of such criticism.

The result, though, is a stronger clamp down on such dissent, as Governor Cuomo’s order to halt state business with groups that support BDS exemplifies. He has joined many states in taking this kind of anti-free speech action. Illinois passed anti-BDS legislation in 2015, Maryland has tried the last 2 years in its General Assembly, and the US Congress has passed amendments targeting critics of Israel.

What we are seeing today is an ultra-reactionary response, notably in the form of denying free speech rights. The basis of all opposition to BDS is that to criticize Israel one is engaging in anti-Semitism. This implies a large number of notable Jewish activists engage in this form of racism.

We are seeing that the attitudes of American Jews towards Israel is changing and finding BDS support among them to becoming more the norm. A 2013 Pew Research Poll showed that only 17% of American Jews believe that the building of settlements provides security for Israel. 44% believe it hurts. Only 38% believe that the present Likud government is sincere in its efforts to make peace with Palestinians. Although a majority of Israelis (52%) believe the US should do more to help Israel, 54% of American Jews believe the US support for Israel is adequate.

According to a study by Brandeis University, it concludes with, “Although our conclusion is that dire predictions of a schism between American Jews and Israel are unfounded based on the current state of American Jewish opinion, the situation is volatile.”

The question is, Is criticizing Israel anti-Semitic? Certainly, if groups that promote BDS also engage in anti-Jewish actions, such as painting swastikas on Jewish dorms or denying people the right to be on committees just because they would have a Jewish perspective, then of course that is anti-Semitic.

But isn’t attacking President Obama for his policies legitimate and not racist, as so many of his supporters often claim?

One of the demands of BDS is the Right of Return, which if carried out to its extreme, would forever alter the demographic nature of Israel, taking away its Jewish only status. This would delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. Is that anti-Semitic? No.

On the issue of the Right of Return, one must ask if stealing someone’s home because you lost yours is ethical in a Jewish sense. It’s not even ethical in a Christian sense! One may attempt to argue whether there was a forced expulsion, but the number of Palestinian refugees in present day camps and throughout the Levant is fully documented and those who deny it are of the same mentality of those who are Holocaust deniers.

Should Israel be a Jewish state, thus giving second-class status of citizenship, property rights, etc., to non-Jews? As one who would argue No, I would take offense to being called a self-hating Jew. In America, at least, Jews have dominated the leftist and progressive arena. We fought for civil rights, anti-war, pro-labor, etc. Although there is a large enough percentage of American Jews who fit the David Brooks/William Kristol mode, they are still a minority of the Jewish population. When given a hypothetical argument as to whether a country should be permitted by law to openly discriminate and target a minority religion, most Americans (hopefully), not just Jews, would oppose this. Throw in the reality that the hypothetical country is Israel and then there’s a lot of hemming and hawing. This is where education comes in to help people understand that Israel should not be treated any differently than any other nation.

This then brings up, Why go after Israel and not countries with far worse human rights abuses, such as Saudi Arabia? If Saudi Arabia and the other countries had such control over our Congress, White House, media and academia that Israel and its lobby has, then that would be a fair argument. Although Saudi Arabia receives a disproportionate amount of aid, it pales in comparison to what is given to Israel. We have a say in what Israel does simply because we subsidize its very existence.

What Governor Cuomo, and so many others, have done in criminalizing free speech for the sake of Israel is an attempt to keep the pendulum permanently to one side. No one expects it to last. With public opinion becoming more diverse on the issue of Israel and Palestine and with the growing strength of the BDS movement itself all over this country and Europe, reactionaries like Cuomo will soon lose what support he has. The Israeli lobby, namely AIPAC and others, still hold enormous power over our elected representatives and the media, but there is a crack and political cracks rarely heal and strengthen.

Myles Hoenig is a Green Party candidate for Congress in Maryland. He has worked as a social and political activist for more than 40 years. Hoenig is a veteran ESOL teacher and active member of his union, as well as holding a union card with the National Writers Union. As a member of Jewish Voices for Peace, he sees how the Zionist narrative he was raise on is based on lies and racist propaganda. He presently serves as an on-line analyst for PressTV.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Adler July 10, 2016 at 10:00 am

I am confused by this article.
To make my own position clear. I am in full support of the Palestinian people.
I support BDS and do not accept that Israel has a right to exist .
Further I do not like or support the idea that Cuomo has apparently moved to halt state business with BDS supporting groups . But I don’t see anything in this article that says that advocating, organizing or agitating for BDS has been made criminal. To the best of my understanding t would be unconstitutional in the US to make such a law.
Being Australian I may have misunderstood the situation .


Kyle Ferendo August 7, 2016 at 9:23 pm

You are correct, Greg. The headline is hyperbolic. BDS has not been criminalized in New York. You are also correct that there is a strong argument that criminalizing BDS would be unconstitutional. However, there is historical precedent for such suppression of leftist speech in the US. But the reaction against BDS has certainly not reached the scale of McCarthyism.


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