Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a dangerous turn down a slippery slope this week.
On Sunday, Cuomo signed an executive order that will prohibit New York State from doing business with, giving money to, or investing in a company or institution that participates in the decade-old boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The campaign, whose supporters allege that Israel commits human rights violations against Palestinians, encourages companies, individuals, and others to not do business with Israel or not buy Israeli goods. Opponents of BDS charge that it is rooted in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, and supported by those who don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.
The merits of the BDS movement are irrelevant to a discussion of the governor’s actions. Had Cuomo simply spoken against it, he would have made his point. But by holding back state funds, contracts and business relationships from those who participate in a political boycott, Cuomo risks using the power of the state to directly infringe on rights of those whose speech he dislikes.
Cuomo said the state will create a list of those who participate in the BDS movement. Blacklist-style politics are worrisome. How will the state determine who goes on the list? What will it take for a company to prove the state wrong?
Even if the state were not dangerously entering First Amendment territory, it makes little sense that New York would take a stand on only this issue. Why not stop doing business with companies that work in any country with violations of human rights or child labor laws? What about companies that do business in countries that harbor or encourage terrorism? Where are the executive orders there?
Cuomo said the order shows support for Israel. His legal counsel, Alphonso David, said the state isn’t violating free speech laws, and instead is “addressing discriminatory practices.” But this is not the same as a landlord who won’t rent to a minority tenant. It is a disturbing overreach of state authority in response to a political protest. It may be unconstitutional, and likely will be tested in court. Cuomo should reconsider this blacklist before it starts.