The Zionist Organization of America praises Town of Hempstead (NY) Supervisor Tony Santino, and Council members Dorothy Goosby, Bruce Blakeman, Anthony D’Esposito, Erin King Sweeney, Gary Hudes, and Edward Ambrosino for unanimously passing an excellent anti-boycott contracting bill this week (June 21, 2016). The bill requires entities entering into supply, construction and services contracts with the Town of Hempstead to certify in writing that they are not engaged in boycotts of an Allied American nation, including Israel and other allies, and territories controlled by our allies, and will not engage in such boycotts during the term of the contract.
ZOA appeared and testified for the bill, at the public hearing preceding the vote. The unanimous vote for the anti-boycott bill was greeted by applause by the large crowd attending the proceedings.
Supervisor Santino stated: “The Town of Hempstead stands wholly opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement which openly discriminates against the United States, Israel and our other allies around the world. As the largest township in the United States, adopting this anti-BDS legislation sends a strong message that our communities will not tolerate bigotry and anti-Semitism.”
ZOA agrees that this legislation is an important milestone in the battle against anti-Israel, anti-Semitic BDS. The Town of Hempstead’s population of approximately 760,000 is larger than the population of four U.S. states.
The bill was proposed and moved by Hempstead Town Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who spoke movingly about how this bill was part of her caring for all people. Councilman Blakeman spoke passionately against BDS and applauded Supervisor Santino for his leadership in protecting the community from hostile businesses. Councilman D’Esposito firmly noted that: “The Town of Hempstead will not tolerate anti-Semitism.” Councilwoman King Sweeney also spoke of how pleased she was to vote for the bill.
ZOA’s Long Island-Queens Executive Director, Liz Berney, Esq., focused her hearing testimony on the Town of Hempstead’s legal and Constitutional right to enact the anti-boycott contracting bill (since BDS groups often oppose such bills by wrongly asserting that these bills are unconstitutional). Ms. Berney noted that:
- The bill raises no free speech issue. The Town of Hempstead’s legislation targets discriminatory economic activity – not “speech.” A contractor with the Town of Hempstead is still allowed to say whatever he or she wishes to say; or attend whatever protests he or she wishes to attend; the contractor just cannot engage in economic discrimination.
- Some of the best legal minds in the country, including Northwestern University Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich, have carefully vetted similar legislation passed in Illinois and elsewhere, and determined that contracting anti-BDS bills clearly do not abridge free speech rights.
- Discriminatory anti-Israel boycotts are unlawful under New York’s Human Rights law, Article 15, Sec. 296(13). The Town of Hempstead is simply deciding to not do business with companies that are violating the state’s Human Rights Law.
- The Town of Hempstead also has the constitutional right to go even further than the present bill. The Town could restrict the speech employed in a contract for a Hempstead-financed program. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991), that the government may prohibit recipients of federal funds from using those funds to express speech with which the government disagrees, stating: “[A] legislature’s decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right.”
- Anti-Israel boycotts also violate the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and PLO, which require economic cooperation between the parties.
- Federal anti-boycott legislation targeting the Arab League boycott, enacted almost 40 years ago, has never been overturned.
Ms. Berney also noted that both Jews and Arabs are victims of anti-Israel boycotts, and that in fact, Arab workers want more Jewish businesses to open and expand in Judea and Samaria (a/k/a the West Bank). She cited a July 2015 poll by a leading Palestinian pollster, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion. Despite theoretical support for BDS, 55% of West Bank Palestinian Arabs said that they would “like to see Israeli companies offer more jobs inside” the West Bank.
ZOA’s representative also specifically praised the Town Council for including territories controlled by Israel in the bill. She explained that such inclusion is extremely important, because targeted boycotts aimed at the territories are discriminatory anti-Semitism, and result in boycotts of all of Israel. For instance, “Partners for Progressive Israel” started with a targeted boycott of territories, and then graduated to boycotting all of Israel, stating that everything is “intertwined.”
Prominent religious leaders and community members, and one other organization also testified eloquently in support of the bill, including: Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky (Yeshiva of South Shore); attorney Jeff Ballabon (representing ACLJ); Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz (who joked about how his initials are “BDS” but he is against BDS); Rabbi Anchelle Perl (Chabad of Mineola); Rabbi Yehuda Septimus (Young Israel of North Woodmere); Rabbi Ira Ebbin (Congregation Ohav Sholom of Merrick); Cedarhurst Mayor Ben Weinstock; Rabbi Walter Friedman (Lawrence); Adam Mayer (Inwood); and Rebecca Sassouni (Great Neck). Many of these individuals focused their remarks on the anti-Semitic nature of BDS, and Israel’s exemplary human rights and civil rights record.