By RENEE HARARI
It appeared that the City Council will likely follow in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s footsteps and move to approve a resolution condemning the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel after a five-hour hearing on Thursday that was repeatedly interrupted by rowdy participants.
The resolution, originally introduced and sponsored by Councilmember Andrew Cohen in May, seeks to “condemn all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction its government and people,” according to the most recent draft language.
“The issue of the impact of BDS on Israel and the implication for New York City residents are large,” said Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, chairwoman of the contracts committee responsible for the resolution. “…I wanted a robust discussion, but, unfortunately, you know, with the distraction of those who wanted to distract – whose sole purpose was to distract – that doesn’t help their side.”
In the hour leading up to the hearing, a press conference led by supporters of the BDS movement crowded the steps leading up to City Hall. Approximately 50 people stood their ground on the steps, waving banners that read, “End the occupation,” “Jews say no!” and “I support Palestinian Human Rights.”
During the lengthy hearing, members of the audience hissed, booed, and cheered after being asked by Rosenthal to express their opinions using hand motions to avoid disrupting the proceedings. At one point, audience members kept springing up from their seats every few seconds to shout phrases like, “Zionism is racism,” “Lies, lies, lies,” and “Free Palestine” in order to prevent people against the BDS movement from speaking. Many demonstrators were escorted out of the hearing chamber for their vocal interruptions.
One man raised both of his middle fingers to the committee and shouted, “You deserve it” as he was removed from the chamber. Rosenthal eventually felt the need to have everyone sitting in the balcony kicked out of the chamber, citing safety. Many of the people ejected from the hearing crowded the chamber’s glass doors, hoping to push past a physical wall of officers and gain reentry.
“They’re not going to silence us,” said Brooke Goldstein, a speaker against the BDS movement and director of The Lawfare Project, moments before an angry woman was escorted out of the chamber for screaming, “You’re a sick human being! You are disgusting! How dare you! How dare you…you’re a f—-ing joke!” at her.
Despite all of the interruptions, speakers from both sides made points.
The BDS movement was established in 2005 by a broad coalition of activists seeking to end Israeli occupation, recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and advocate for the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in UN Resolution 194, according to bdsmovement.net.
BDS supporters testified against the resolution, claiming that the resolution would suppress their constitutional First Amendment right to boycott. They argued that BDS was not an anti-Semitic movement, and they justified the boycott by comparing Israel’s political regime to South Africa’s apartheid.
“The State of Israel has violated every conceivable human rights of the Palestinian people that you can conjure up in your mind,” said Assemblymember Charles Barron before the hearing began. “…They said sanctions will hurt, but apartheid kills; occupation kills.”
People against the BDS movement rebutted these statements, arguing that the movement’s true philosophy was to bring about the annihilation of Israel, and to delegitimize the nation. They stressed that BDS is an inherently anti-Semitic, racist movement that would be detrimental to the city’s economy, since Israel is a strong economic partner of New York City. These supporters also testified that the issue of BDS coming up on college campuses has turned violent, causing Jewish students to feel uncomfortable wearing their yarmulkes to school.
“The BDS movement singles out the Jewish state, and only the Jewish state, in its so-called human rights advocacy,” Goldstein said in her testimony. “This is racism, pure and simple.”
Near the end of the five-hour hearing, Rosenthal placed a two-minute time restriction on all speakers. With limited time to get their points across, speakers made sure to state how displeased they were with the way the City Council’s Committee on Contracts conducted the hearing.
“I think that this hearing has been held in the most unprofessional manner,” said Pamela Sporn, a BDS supporter. Sporn called attention to the lack of diversity in the mostly Jewish committee, members using their cellphones during the hearing, members coming and going freely, and lack of questions critical to the resolution.
“You have to realize that you are on the wrong side of history, and we’re growing. We’re growing,” Sporn said.
The committee appeared unfazed.
“I knew [the resolution] would be controversial, but it’s not really that controversial among the body, among the membership” Cohen said. “…I anticipate the passing of the resolution soon.”
Photo by Renee Harari