June 21, 2016, New York – Today, human rights and civil liberties groups filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking documents relating to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent executive order that will blacklist institutions and companies that abide by Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns related to Israeli human rights abuses and violations of international law. Under the order, New York State money will be divested from those institutions unless and until they drop their support of the constitutionally-protected movement for Palestinian rights.
The groups filing the FOIL request maintain that Cuomo’s order violates the First Amendment by punishing political boycotts, which the Supreme Court has unequivocally found to be protected expression, and that it is only the latest offense in a well-funded and coordinated wave of attacks designed to silence Palestinian human rights activism in the U.S. Congress as well as some two dozen states have introduced anti-BDS legislation, and Israeli media have reported that their foreign ministry was involved in initiating at least some of the bills. The FOIL seeks to understand the origins of Cuomo’s order and who may be behind it.
The FOIL request, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Palestine Legal, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), seeks communications between the governor’s office and any organizations, other U.S. state executive offices and legislatures, and the state of Israel relating to the executive order.
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, “Governor Cuomo’s McCarthy-style blacklist attempts to demonize and punish institutions that are acting on a principled view that they cannot subsidize well-documented human rights abuses undertaken by the Israeli government in violation of international law – precisely the same view that drove Governor Cuomo’s father to participate in divestment from South Africa in the 1980s.”
Governor Cuomo issued his order on June 5, in the midst of debate surrounding pending New York State legislation opposed by many groups that would have similarly compiled lists of persons and entities engaged in BDS tactics. Announcing his executive order, Cuomo, who is Co-Chair of the American Jewish Committee’s Governors against BDS initiative, told a room of supporters the legislative process was “tedious.”
“Cuomo’s hostility to free speech and open debate is clear, both from his intent to blacklist boycotters and his use of an executive order to circumvent the political opposition to similar bills in the legislature,” said Palestine Legal Executive Director Dima Khalidi. “The bill in the legislature was opposed by over a hundred groups who saw it as an effort to deny a fundamental democratic right to political speech, in clear violation of the First Amendment. This FOIL seeks to expose the forces behind this executive order so that the public can understand the extent to which Cuomo is subverting our constitutional rights in order to shield Israel from accountability.”
“We have seen groups that oppose taking action to end Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians bring pressure time and again to silence criticism of the state, from college campuses to legislatures across the country,” said Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson. “However, this is the first time they have enlisted a governor in an unconstitutional attack on BDS tactics.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.