N.Y. State Bills Targeting Israel Boycotters 'Harken Back to McCarthy Era,' Legal Organizations Charge

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Protesters hold a banner that reads 'Boycott Israel' during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on August 2, 2014.Credit: AFP

Two bills by N.Y. state legislators seeking to sanction individuals and groups that boycott Israel have been scrutinized by legal organizations, who claim they "harken back to the McCarthy era," Salon reported on Tuesday.  

The bills, which are currently pending in the state legislature, would prohibit the state from making investments or contracts with anyone who boycotts Israel or other U.S. allies. But the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal said the bills would effectively create a blacklist of pro-Palestinian activists. 

“The courts long ago found such McCarthy-era legislation to be at war with the First Amendment,” the three organizations said in a memorandum issued to New York state legislators after the first bill, S6378A, was adopted by the State Senate. The groups requested the bills be withdrawn, as they "unconstitutionally target core political speech activities and infringe on the freedom to express political beliefs.”

While S6378A targets boycotts of U.S. allies in general, the justification section of the sponsor's memo specifically mentions "questionably motivated" members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Movement, known as BDS, as promoting activities against U.S. allies. "This behavior not only hurts the state, its interests and its citizens, but seeks to advance anti-Semitisic [sic], anti-freedom and anti-capitalism principles," says the memo. 

The second bill, S6086, focuses on boycotts of Israel alone, while including similar language.

Both bills, sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers respectively, won bi-partisan support.

According to Salon, S6378A is being considered for a vote in the state assembly. This means that it could be passed into law at any time, though it could also stall, taking months to be put to a vote.  

A similar bill was recently passed into law in Indiana, and about a dozen more are now under consideration in state legislatures that would counter the BDS movement.

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