New Yorkers perceived to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights, including several professors, received legal threats from a website claiming to aid New York politicians’ failed efforts to enact an anti-BDS law. The email, from a group called “Outlaw BDS New York” cites legislation that failed to pass the New York State legislature, and threatens recipients with “legal proceedings” if they do not “cease and desist” from supporting BDS.
The email, which contains a subject line “You have been Black Listed!” states “you need to be aware that you have been identified as a BDS supporter.”
“These laws have a huge chilling effect,” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Radhika Sainath. “Lawsuit threats are scary. Many people might not know that their right to boycott is protected under the First Amendment and that these threats are completely meritless. Politicians who support these McCarthyite blacklisting bills should know that they are aiding rightwing fringe groups like the creators of this website and others like it, including Canary Mission.”
To date, twenty-one states have enacted anti-BDS laws aimed at punishing those who support or participate in boycotts for Palestinian rights. In addition, Congress is currently considering the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, an AIPAC-backed bill with bipartisan support despite broad criticism from human rights activists and civil liberties lawyers. Because political boycotts, including boycotts for Palestinian rights, are protected by the First Amendment, these laws are unconstitutional and will likely be struck down when challenged in court.
Although Palestinian rights and free speech activists have successfully defeated anti-BDS legislation in the New York State legislature for three years, Governor Cuomo did sign an anti-BDS executive order in 2016. To date, no state law has been enacted that blacklists individuals, although S.2492, the bill cited by Outlaw BDS, would have done so if enacted.