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Despite Fierce Protestors, New York City Council Overwhelmingly Condemns BDS

The New York City Council deserves much praise for overwhelmingly passing a resolution condemning the campaign to boycott the state of Israel and its people. The vote on September 14 was an overwhelming — 40 yeses, 4 noes, 6 abstentions and 1 absent.

Council members clearly recognize the need to defend their city’s economic interests against attempts to weaken it. They also understand the need to condemn a bigoted movement that singles out only one country and that creates divisiveness wherever it is found – including campuses, academic and religious institutions, co-ops such as at Park Slope in Brooklyn and even on public transit systems throughout the United States including New York.

The Council should also be commended for ousting anti-Israel protesters who disrupted the Sept 8 hearing almost from the beginning, shouting down people who spoke in support of the resolution.

I had the privilege of being one of those people. Introduced in May by Councilman Andrew Cohen (D-Bronx) and supported by Contracts Committee Chair, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and NYC Council Speaker, Melissa Mark Viverito, the resolution condemns “all efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the people of Israel.” As I stated in my testimony, “Council members recognize the destructive nature of the BDS movement and are sending a clear message that the city of New York City, one of the most liberal, diverse, tolerant and greatest cities in the country, will not tolerate divisiveness and racism.”

The shouting began as New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine began to speak and continued as my colleagues from JCRC, Conference of Presidents, UJA, the Lawfare Project, ADL, Hillel, and others spoke.

The anti-Israel activists called us liars and racists, and accused Council members of trying to stifle free speech. They accused them of running an unethical hearing, called it a sham, and complained that they should have been allowed to testify sooner, charging that the council was not allowing dissent. They disregarded the fact that the first person given the floor was Assemblyman Charles Barron who spoke for more than 10 minutes against the Resolution, adding his wife Councilwoman Inez Barron’s testimony. Eventually, and thankfully, Committee Chair Helen Rosenthal ordered that all disruptors be escorted out by the Sergeant at Arms.

The anti-Israel protesters’ actions inside Council Chambers reflect exactly what they try to do to pro-Israel students on far too many college campuses. At John Jay School of Criminal Justice, Hunter, Syracuse, UC Irvine, San Francisco State University and others, anti-Israel groups have tried to shout down pro-Israel students and speakers while concurrently claiming the right of free speech. The members of the Council and all those watching got a small taste of what anti-Israel groups do on many campuses. Thankfully, legislators see through the veneer, as voiced by City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens): “At the heart of the BDS Movement…is suppression of viewpoints and free speech.” Ironically, had the anti-Israel protesters not disrupted the hearing, more of them would have been able to testify and a lot sooner. Instead, they made a mockery of themselves and delayed the hearing. What was supposed to take 2 hours ended up taking over 4 hours.

By mid-afternoon when the hearing officially ended, Committee Chair, Helen Rosenthal and the others, ensured that free speech prevailed. They made certain that everyone who respectfully followed the rules was allowed to share their views. We are thrilled that the resolution passed by a wide margin of 40 Councilmembers voting in favor. NYC Council Speaker Viverito, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, Councilmembers Cohen, Lancman, Greenfield, Deutsch, Grodenchik, Kallos, Levine, Treyger and others, deserve our utmost thanks for protecting free speech.

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