NY State Legislative Session Comes to a Close and No Anti-Boycott Bill is Passed!
On Friday, June 20, 2014 the NY State Legislature closed its doors for this session. For the past few months we have been waiting to see if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would take any action to move the bill he introduced that was aimed at silencing those on campus critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and most especially campus organizations that have taken up the academic boycott of Israel. If his unconstitutional bill had become law it would have fed the nationwide attack on free speech and academic freedom. But that has not happened and instead his legislation has died a quiet death. We want to thank everyone who participated in the efforts to defeat this dangerous bill! In late January and throughout February people moved swiftly when alerted about the legislation. The calls and letters and email messages that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people sent to Speaker Silver forced him to withdraw his initial version of the bill. He then re-introduced the bill with less punitive measures, but the fact that there was any consideration of any form of punishment against those supporting a nonviolent boycott meant his bill was still both offensive and unconstitutional. You, and many others around NY, kept up the pressure and he obviously decided to not move this through the legislative process in Albany.
In addition to the many messages sent to our Assembly Members, several important meetings with elected officials and others were held during this effort. Meetings with Assembly Member Deborah Glick, the chair of the Assembly's Higher Education Committee, also were important. Those who met directly with her felt she was concerned about the attack on academic freedom and perhaps her attention to that pressing issue helped play a role in slowing down Speaker Silver. If that was the case, we certainly appreciate it. We also believe our strong work helped in creating the climate for a very helpful editorial in the NY Times.
One other important piece of the picture: bills very similar to the NY legislation were introduced in Illinois and Maryland. Those legislative bodies had much shorter sessions and so our friends in those states had to move very quickly. Their effective work led to the complete defeat of the anti-boycott bill in Illinois and in Maryland the legislator who had introduced that bill was forced to retreat to some non-binding language in the State budget. While that language is offensive there is no force of law behind it. In other words, there were important victories in both of those states. We can't help but wonder how much that might have influenced Speaker Silver's decision to let his bill sit without any action on it.
We were thrilled that our coalition of organizations with a wide range of views has been able to stay together through these months, and that we all worked so well together in the height of the effort. One of the clear lessons from this work is that having political breadth and diversity within our own ranks gives us even greater strength.
There is no way to know now if Speaker Silver or anyone else in the NY State Assembly will introduce new legislation when a new legislative session begins next winter. We will remain vigilant and, of course, if anything does develop we will again reach out to you to take speedy action. Until then, we hope everyone has a great summer.
Statement from The Ad Hoc Group in Support of Academic Freedom and the First Amendment includes theCenter for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, National Lawyers Guild, Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY faculty & staff union), Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No!, American Studies Association, Adalah-NY. In addition, we worked very closely with NY State United Teachers (NYSUT), AAUP, NY Civil Liberties Union and many groups working to end the Israeli occupation.