Bill de Blasio and Sheldon Silver.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Photo by AP
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The New York State Senate approved a bill that would suspend funding to educational institutions that fund groups which boycott Israel.

The legislation, approved Tuesday in a 56-4 vote, bans state funding to colleges that fund organizations boycotting “countries that host higher education institutions chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.”

A number of New York-based universities have Israel branches.

The bill does not mention Israel, but its sponsor, state Senator Jeffrey Klein - in a statement quoted by the news site Mondoweiss - made clear that academic boycotts of Israel were what led him to introduce the legislation.

“I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York,” Mondoweiss quoted Klein, a Democrat representing the Bronx and Westchester County, as saying. “The First Amendment protects every organization’s right to speak, but it never requires taxpayers to foot the bill.”

A similar bill introduced in the state Assembly this month by Speaker Sheldon Silver has 48 sponsors among the chamber’s 150 members. Silver said he initiated the measure “in response to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel and its academic institutions.”

The ASA, one of three U.S. academic groupings to boycott Israeli academic institutions last year, said the legislation was an attack on free speech.

“While proposed in the name of academic freedom, the bill is a direct attack on such freedom,” an ASA statement said. “As the American Association of University Professors notes, it proposes a political litmus test for faculty seeking research and travel support and thus recalls the McCarthy era, one of the darkest periods of political repression in U.S. history.”