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New York Senate Weighs Bill to Keep Public Funds Away From Israel Boycott Efforts

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Israeli and American flags displayed at Ben Gurion Airport in March 2013. Photo: Moshe Milner / GPO

A bill winding through the New York Senate aims to do more to ensure the state does not contract with companies that boycott Israel.

Introduced by Sen. Anna Kaplan and co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the legislation (S706) was referred in January to the Senate’s Procurement and Contracts Committee. It would codify a definition of boycott activities and outline steps for state agencies to avoid doing business with them.

The bill describes the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, as “an orchestrated movement designed to weaken and delegitimize Israel through economic isolation, which will cause great harm to one of our nation’s strongest allies.”

“Israel, being the 4th largest recipient of New York State’s exports (at $6.4 million), has proven both a strategic and economic ally,” it adds. “It undermines our national security to assist Israel’s enemies … Passing this legislation is an important way for New York to show support to our ally.”

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New York already has an executive order in place, issued by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016, that prohibits state agencies or authorities from engaging in or promoting “any investment activity that would further the harmful and discriminatory” BDS campaign.

After Ben & Jerry’s announced its decision to terminate its contract with its distributor in Israel and stop selling products in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, the New York state pension fund pulled $111 million in investments from the ice cream maker’s parent company, Unilever.

Kaplan has sought to get her bill on companies that support BDS passed in New York since 2019, in order to codify Cuomo’s order into law, but it never advanced past the Senate’s Finance Committee.

“As the only Jewish religious refugee in the New York State legislature, I consider it my solemn duty to speak out in support of Israel, and to stand up against the antisemitic BDS movement that targets the world’s only Jewish state to the exclusion of all others,” the state senator, who fled Iran as a child during the Islamic Revolution, wrote last week.

The legislation, she added, is “a critical measure that will re-affirm New York’s strong support for Israel, and I will fight hard to get it done.”

A number of other states have adopted laws to withhold taxpayer funds from companies that support the BDS campaign, beginning with South Carolina in 2015 and followed by Illinois, Florida, Arizona, California, and others.

Kaplan has also proposed legislation that “prohibits the use of state aid by colleges and universities to fund or provide membership in academic institutions that are boycotting a country or higher education institutions of a country.” The measure, also co-sponsored by Kaminsky, is currently being considered by the Senate’s Higher Education Committee.

She has additionally introduced a bill that would establish an educational program to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination.

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