Radhika Sainath testifies before New York City Council

Left: Standing for #FreedomToBoycott human rights abusers. Right: Pushing for the suppression of speech. 

Left: Standing for #FreedomToBoycott human rights abusers. Right: Pushing for the suppression of speech. 

Palestine Legal staff attorney Radhika Sainath testified this morning against an anti-BDS resolution in the New York City Council. Find her complete testimony below. 


Testimony of Radhika Sainath on behalf of Palestine Legal

before the New York City Council's Committee on Contracts

OPPOSING Proposed Resolution No. 1058-A, condemning the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

September 8, 2016

My name is Radhika Sainath and I am an attorney with Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Palestine Legal is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the United States who speak out for Palestinian freedom.

I present testimony today to oppose Proposed Resolution No. 1058-A, which would condemn non-violent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian freedom.

Palestine Legal exists because people in this country who are vocal about Palestinian freedom routinely experience the suppression of their First Amendment right to speak out. This includes the right to participate, in, and advocate for, boycotts, which the Supreme Court recognized as First Amendment-protected activity in 1982. Our work includes documenting incidents of suppression – what we call the “Palestine exception to free speech” – where people in the United States are censored, bullied, harassed, blacklisted, or otherwise punished for taking a principled stance for human rights, whether by advocating for the tactic of boycott specifically, or for Palestinian rights generally.

Palestine Legal receives calls from students, professors and other community members about their rights to host talks or engage in street theatre supporting Palestinian rights. We also receive calls from those who are subjected to severe harassment because of their speech critical of Israeli policy. Since January 2014, we’ve responded to nearly 600 incidents of suppression, the vast majority targeting students and scholars. 126 of these incidents occurred in New York.

For example, Students for Justice in Palestine at New York University received an email in August stating: “WE WILL RAPE YOUR ORGANIZATION – LEAVING NO HOLES” and that the group was “swimming in a campus fish bowl” and that there are “NO SAFE SPACES ANYMORE.” This was a few weeks after Governor Cuomo signed an executive order creating a blacklist of organizations promoting BDS.

And, in speaking with human rights activists, it’s become clear that condemnation from officials –  including legislation and resolutions by elected officials – can have a terrible chilling effect on protected speech, and often leads to harassment, bullying and even the kind of rape and death threats faced by the students at NYU and elsewhere.

By falsely equating BDS campaigns with anti-Semitism, and by failing to acknowledge that BDS campaigns are a nonviolent tactic through which people of conscience throughout the world can effectively oppose Israel’s violations of international law, the City Council is laying the groundwork for the suppression of Palestine rights activism and the environment that welcomes threats against Palestinian human rights activists. 

Our lawmakers should be in the business of advancing human rights, not condemning those of us who choose to exercise our constitutional rights to engage in such advocacy. Because this resolution will chill constitutionally-protected speech and invite further suppression of social justice activists, I urge you to withdraw it.