Urgent Action Needed! Jewish Voice for Peace Calls for Action on NY State Bill; calling it “An Assault on Free Speech”

ALBANY, NY - MARCH 12:  Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver walks in front of the State Capitol March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today after various media reports have linked him to a prostitution ring. New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over for Spitzer when his resignation goes into effect Monday, March 17, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sheldon Silver
ALBANY, NY – MARCH 12: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver walks in front of the State Capitol March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today after various media reports have linked him to a prostitution ring. New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over for Spitzer when his resignation goes into effect Monday, March 17, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sheldon Silver

Action Needed this Weekend and Monday Morning to Stop Passage of Dangerous Bill in NY State Assembly

This past Tuesday, Jan. 28th, the NY State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill targeting the American Studies Association (ASA) because it recently passed a resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israel. If this becomes law it would prohibit public universities and colleges from using any taxpayer money on groups that support boycotts of Israel. For instance, such funds could not be used for travel or lodging for a faculty member attending a meeting of a group that supports a boycott of Israel. Just as dangerous, this law will lay the groundwork for other attempts to silence debate and opposition on other controversial issues.   A similar bill is quickly moving through the process in the NY State Assembly…we must act now to stop it!

The Higher Education Committee of the NY State Assembly is scheduled to discuss their version of this legislation this coming Monday, Feb. 3rd. If they pass it out of committee it could go to the full Assembly for a vote 3 days from that. And since Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced the Assembly bill we can assume he will move to a vote immediately.

According to NY State Senator Klein, chief proponent of the legislation. “We need to marginalize the politics of intolerance whenever it rears its ugly head. I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an in inch in New York. The First Amendment protects every organization’s right to speak, but it never requites taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The reality is that this legislation is a direct assault on our First Amendment right to freely and openly speak our minds in opposition to the policies of any government, including the Israeli government. Imagine if legislation like this was passed during the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa!

According to Dima Khalidi of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights,  the First Amendment “prohibits public officials from denying public benefits as a way of censoring speech activities.These bills clearly aim to discourage expressive activities such as boycotts based on the legislators’ personal disagreement with the content of the expression. Painting the ASA boycott resolution as discriminatory is not only inaccurate, but also distracts from the fact that its purpose is in fact to protest the human rights violations for which Israel is responsible, and the discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli government. These bills would be both a violation of free speech and academic freedom, which the proposed legislation cynically purports to defend.”

Now is the time for action! Now is the time for members of the Assembly to hear from us: this assault on free speech and academic freedom must be stopped today!

What you can do:

1) Contact key members of the NY State Assembly. Talking points to help you focus your ideas are below.

The chair of the Higher Education Committee, Deborah Glick, needs to hear from people this weekend and early Monday morning. Over the weekend, send an email to her office, just click here.
Early Monday morning Glick’s offices in Albany and NYC need to be flooded with phone calls: Albany Office phone 518-455-4841, District Office phone 212-674-5153.
Contact as many of the other members of the Higher Education Committee as you can. Click here for the list of committee members, which includes links to each of their websites
Call, email fax or use any other method to contact Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver…District Office phone 212-312-1420, Albany Office phone 518-455-3791, to send an email click here.

2) Contact Your State Assembly Member. 

Assuming the bill passes in the Higher Education Committee on Monday, it will quickly move to the Assembly for a vote. Be sure to contact your own Assembly Member before that vote. Click here to find your member and their contact information. If you don’t know your members name, use the Search function on the right side of the page.

3) Help spread the word.

Share this message as widely and as quickly as you can. View an online version of this alert here. You can also share it with the Facebook and Twitter buttons above.

Try to get this information to people throughout NY State…it is important that this be a state-wide effort.

Send a letter to the editor to express your opposition to this legislation.

Jan. 31, 2014
What the Legislation Passed by the NY State Senate Says
“No college in this state may use state aid provided directly to such college to: fund an academic entity, provide funds for membership in an academic entity or fund travel or  lodging for any employee to attend any meeting of such academic entity if such entity has issued a public resolution or other official statement or undertaken an official action boycotting a host country or higher education institutions located in such country.”

A “host country” is defined as a country in which there is a higher education institution chartered by the NYS Board of Regents. Thus, the prohibition applies only to boycotts against academic institutions in Israel, Hungary, Lebanon, and the Czech Republic.

If this legislation becomes law, no college may provide funds for any employee to pay for membership in, or for travel or lodging to attend a meeting of any organization of professors that has issued a resolution boycotting a higher education institution in Iasrael. In other words, the legislation would prohibit a faculty member from getting funds to travel to an American Studies Association (ASA) meeting, even if that meeting is unrelated to the boycott, or the professor herself is opposed to the boycott. If a college violates the prohibition it loses all public funds for that academic year. This applies to public and private universities that receive state funds.

Why We Oppose the Legislation; Why We Are Calling on Members of the NY State Assembly to Vote NO on this Legislation

1.    Advocacy in support of a boycott, like all advocacy, is a constitutionally protected form of expression. While such advocacy may be controversial, the First Amendment is a bulwark against government censorship of controversial speech.

2.    It has been more than 60 years since this legislature sought to prohibit advocacy on any subject or for any point of view.  To do so now will return us to the days of McCarthyism, when colleges and universities became places of fear and suspicion, and when vigorous and contentious debate was replaced by a demand for conformity.

3.    Advocacy of boycotts – and the boycotts themselves – played a substantial role in changing discriminatory policies in the American south and in South Africa, to say nothing of strengthening labor struggles throughout our country.  Advocacy of boycotts by activist students and faculty has a long and honorable place in U.S. history. The NY State legislature should not be on record as suggesting that advocacy of such an effective means for promoting peaceful change is somehow illegitimate.   4.  Public universities are a critical resource for poor and working-class New Yorkers — and silencing speech in those institutions by using tax dollars as leverage is a particular assault on the speech and freedom of those who rely on public education.

About the Boycott in Relation to this Legislation

1.    It is charged that the boycott violates academic freedom. However, the boycott of universities funded by the Israeli government is directed at the institutional policies themselves, and not at faculty members of those institutions, which is the central concern of academic freedom. As the AAUP has said, ” Academic freedom is meaningless if it does not protect those who support unpopular positions, including the advocacy of academic boycotts.”

2.    The boycott of Israeli universities makes no mention of any religious group, and, despite claims of this bill’s supporters to the contrary, does not violate any laws against religious or ethnic discrimination.  (https://www.ccrjustice.org/files/FAQonLegalityofBoycott_1.10.14_FINAL_SH.pdf:)   3.  Sponsors of these bills say that singling out Israeli academic institutions amounts to anti-Semitism and constitutes discrimination. This is false. To equate criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism is as absurd as claiming a boycott of Saudi Arabia for its human rights record is Islamophobic or that criticism of the Chinese occupation of Tibet is hateful against people of Chinese ethnicity.
To action,

Alana Krivo-Kaufman
Northeast Field Organizing Fellow

Learn more at www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org.