BDS Cries McCarthyism

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order against BDS, that requires a list of businesses that particpate in BDS to be drawn up. Ben Norton writing in Salon absurdly refers to legislation against BDS as a “neo-McCarthyite movement” that aims to “punish Palestinian human rights advocates.”

It is hypocritical and ironic that supporters of BDS, which publishes lists of companies that invest in Israel to be targeted for boycotts, are complaining when the same is done to businesses that boycott Israel.

But BDS is all about hypocrisy and evading the truth – in this case, its activists hysterically and falsely portraying themselves as victims of McCarthyism and “blacklists.”

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McCarthyism is named for US Senator Joseph McCarthy for his political repression against communists in the 1950s. The term is used to refer to “blacklists” that effectively barred people from working for engaging in free speech, and the use of unfounded charges to repress dissent and criticism. In contrast, Cuomo’s New York Executive Order 157 does not make it illegal to engage in BDS, just that businesses that do will have no access to state funds. Listing those institutions is a matter of transparency, to ensure that companies and consumers are informed as to which businesses engage in anti-Israel BDS activities, so that they wouldn’t inadvertently end up ineligible to do business with the State of New York.


Law expert and Professor at Northwestern Law School, Eugene Kontorovich, spoke exclusively to HonestReporting. He explained:

The ‘blacklist’ accusation is ridiculous. Similar lists have been made under divestment statutes for years without any constitutional complaints. Statutes requiring divestments for ties to Iran, Sudan, and so forth all require the making of such lists -indeed, that is where the idea is borrowed from.

Once a statute requires divestment, there is no way to administer it without knowing which companies to divest from – and that requires lists. The only reason these lists are publicly available is not too embarrass anyone, but because open records laws require it. The hundreds of major companies listed under existing laws have never complained about ‘McCarthyism.’

Of course, Palestinian-supporting groups framed the order as an attack on free speech. In fact the US has a long history of treating boycotts specifically against foreign nations not as free speech: Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution states “The Congress shall have Power To… regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” and the Supreme Court has ruled that activities which impinge on constitutional powers reserved to the government are not constitutionally protected free speech. On that basis America passed the Export Administration Act which limits the use of boycotts by private companies and individuals.

Trade boycotts against a friendly foreign nation are different to those against domestic businesses. Cuomo’s executive order limits the use of a tool of statecraft to government rather than private individuals – it does not limit free speech.

In the Salon article Norton’s description of BDS is false in itself, as its goal is not merely to pressure Israel to “comply with international law” and cease its alleged “violations of Palestinian human rights” – but actually for the delegitimization and destruction of the only Jewish state.

Clearly a BDS supporter himself, Norton then moves on to his own delegitimization of Israel. He exaggerates Bernie Sanders’ criticism of Israel, and implies Israel indiscriminately bombs innocent Palestinians in Gaza, with no mention of Hamas.

Cuomo stated that “by definition” Israel “can’t be disproportionate,” and Norton twists this by following it with Israel’s “brutal attacks on the densely populated Gaza Strip, which does not have an air force or conventional army.” But the valid point Cuomo was making was that when Israel is dealing an enemy, Hamas, whose very purpose is to destroy Israel  – “an enemy who is obsessed and single-minded” on that goal, then “By definition you can’t be disproportionate.”

Cuomo warned: “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.” The only defense BDS has is lies and hypocrisy. The simple fact is, BDS can handle neither the truth, nor the taste of its own tactics.


For more on the legal background on BDS and free speech, click here.

For resources on BDS, click here.

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