Klein, Rivera clash over Israel boycott bill

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A bill aimed at preventing public colleges and universities from participating in the American Studies Association’s (ASA) controversial boycott of Israel and from other, similar boycotts has divided the northwest Bronx’s state senators, with Co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein championing the legislation and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera in the minority against it.

ASA generated a nationwide controversy in December when it announced a boycott against Israeli academic institutions, saying the move was out of solidarity with Palestinians. After that, the heads of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New (SUNY) joined a number of colleges, universities and academic organizations around the country in condemning the embargo.

Last week, the state Senate voted 56-4, with one member abstaining, in favor of a bill sponsored by Mr. Klein that would deny state funds to institutions participating in a boycott like ASA’s.

Mr. Klein and other elected officials decried the boycott as unfairly singling out Israel while countries with worse human rights records do not receive embargoes.

“Until [ASA changes] their position and stops dabbling unfairly in international politics, I think the legislation I passed in the senate is warranted,” Mr. Klein said.

Mr. Klein’s bill, S6438, contains several caveats. It only denies state funding when a college or university uses state money to participate with an organization boycotting a country that hosts SUNY Board of Regents-certified institutions — a status including Israel and a handful of other nations.

Mr. Klein pointed out that the stipulations allow institutes of higher learning to use private funds on membership and other fees to groups such as ASA.

The bill also permits boycotts that are connected with labor disputes, that protest “unlawful discriminatory practices” and that target countries on the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Still, Mr. Rivera called the bill a blow to the freedom of speech.

“It seems to me we are overstepping the boundaries of what the state should be able to do,” he said.

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