Don’t repress speech on BDS


To the editor:

(re: “Jeff Dinowitz, Gustavo Rivera quarrel over BDS,” July 21)

The one upside to The Riverdale Press’ confusing story on BDS is that readers may finally understand what “BDS” stands for: boycott, divestment and sanctions.

But the many downsides to this are that one can read the story and still not know who is for what, who is against, why, and what the ramifications are.

It is also quite sad to see politicians throw allegations of supporting BDS around as if it is a stain rather than a legitimate avenue for peaceful protest and action.

Please let us clear this up. As a Jewish person who has lived in the Riverdale area for more than 40 years, I support BDS. Why? Because I worked in the anti-Apartheid campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, and saw how the then-divestment campaign against South Africa’s human rights abuses was a respected, non-violent, economic, civil society approach to advocate for change of an unjust system.

It worked! That divestment campaign contributed to ending the inequitable system oppression in South Africa. It brought equality sooner, and with less violence.

The BDS campaign advocates for similar economic measures to affect change in Israel’s policies of unjust and humiliating treatment of Palestinians (unwarranted harassment at places of worship, brutal pass checks to come across the dividing wall, bulldozing Palestinian houses, etc.), disproportionate use of force on civilians (bombings of apartments in Gaza), unequal access to services (hospitals and schools), and lack of human rights theoretically guaranteed in the Israeli constitution.

Some people, like Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, argue that this unfairly targets Israel and not other countries that commit abuses against their own citizens. But few people argue that Israel doesn’t do these things. I would equally support a BDS campaign against China for its treatment of Uyghurs.

Each person is entitled to their opinion on whether to support BDS or not, but the crux of the problem in New York is that politicians are misusing this issue to make allegations against their political enemies, and to sway unsuspecting citizens with misleading stories that obscure the real issue.

The New York state legislature wants to pass legislation that any citizen using their right of free speech — still allowed in the USA? — to voice approval of BDS will be forbidden from receiving any New York state or city government contracts. And any universities that allow discussion — just discussion! — of BDS will be denied access to government funding for higher education. 

This is no longer a question of BDS in Israel. This is a question of silencing free speech and thought in America. You may agree or disagree with me that BDS is a legitimate form of advocacy, but I hope you don’t disagree with my right to speak about it.

Assemblyman Dinowitz, I know you are against BDS, but do you disrespect state Sen. Gustavo Rivera’s right to have an opinion? And are you in favoring of silencing my free speech?

Gay Rosenblum-Kumar