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NY lawmakers criticize bill that would penalize charities that support Israeli settlements

The legislation was introduced by members of the Democratic Socialists of America

This post was updated on 05-18-23 to reflect recent developments.

A majority of Democratic lawmakers in the New York State Assembly harshly rebuked five of their colleagues in a joint statement Thursday  for introducing a bill  they say would penalize charitable groups providing assistance to families of terror victims. 

The bill, titled “Not on our dime!: Ending New York funding of Israeli settler violence act,” would prohibit nonprofits “from engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.” It would give the state attorney general the authority to revoke a charity’s tax-exempt status if violated. 

The legislation was introduced last week by Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, a Democratic Socialist from Queens who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and State Sen. Jabari Brisport from Brooklyn. It is cosponsored by Assemblymembers Phara Souffrant Forrest, Marcela Mitaynes and Sarahana Shrestha — all of whom were endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America’s local chapter in last year’s election cycle. 

In a letter — initially released on Tuesday — a group of 25 lawmakers, most of them Jewish, claimed that the bill targets “Jewish organizations that have wide ranging missions from feeding the poor to providing emergency medical care for victims of terrorism to clothing orphans.” Many of the recent victims of terror lived in settlements in the occupied West Bank or close to East Jerusalem. 

They wrote that the bill was introduced “to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and further sow divisions within the Democratic Party,” noting that its sponsors have yet to condemn the more than 1,000 rockets targeting civilians that were fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants last week. 

The five-day conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad left 33 Palestinians, including at least 13 civilians, dead. Two Israelis were killed by rocket fire. 

Mamdani tweeted on Monday, “Every year, charities registered in New York State send $60m+ in tax-deductible donations to aid & abet Israeli settler violence. Today, we’re launching legislation to ban that.” In a statement to the New York Post, Mamdani said the bill does not apply to “Jewish organizations that feed the poor, provide emergency medical care, and clothe orphans take up noble causes for which New York State should provide the benefits of charitable status.” He wrote that the bill would only impact organizations supporting activities “such as aiding and abetting the demolition and arson of Palestinian schools, homes and agricultural land.”

Dan Rosenthal, who spearheaded the letter with Nily Rozic — both of whom are Jewish — pushed back, saying the state legislature “has no oversight over foreign policy.” He said Mamdani “is an extreme voice who does not believe Israel has a right to exist.” The letter had 66 signatures on Thursday. Manny De Los Santos of Manhattan, who was an original cosponsor of the bill, withdrew his name on Thursday and added his signature to the letter. 

Stacey Pheffer Amato, an assemblywoman from South Queens, called the bill “purely antisemitic” and accused the cosponsors of promoting “propaganda that fuels a campaign of hate against Jewish people.” Charles Lavine, an assemblyman from Nassau County, said the bill “serves no legitimate purpose” at “a time when antisemitism has reached epidemic dimensions.”

The group of lawmakers said the bill would be dead on arrival if it reached the floor for a vote. “Not on our watch!” they wrote. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told the Forward the bill is “a non-starter and it is not something we are considering.” Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said that Senate leadership will also kill the bill. 

This post was updated with the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader’s response.

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