June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Israel Settlement Debate Comes to New York

With just days left until the end of the legislative session, state lawmakers are considering a last-minute piece of legislation that would prohibit New York-based not-for-profits from helping to finance Israel-backed settlements in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. The measure is sponsored by five Democrats who also align themselves with the Democratic Socialists of America.

The measure is titled the “Not On Our Dime!: Ending New York Funding of Israeli Settler Violence Act” to prohibit not-for-profit corporations from engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.

Assembly Republicans, including all 48 members, five Jewish GOP lawmakers and five non-Jewish members who represent large Jewish populations, said in a letter that they were “appalled” that this legislation was “vigorously pushed forward” and this bill was an “utterly vicious and antisemitic measure. This bill seeks to penalize non-profit entities that have any affiliation with the state of Israel and is effectively an attack on Jews and Israel. As Americans, we find this bill to be not only discriminatory but also deeply antisemitic. Our colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference share these concerns. It is clear that these legislators are using this bill as nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize and denigrate Israel and its right to self-determination.”

One of those legislators who signed on to the Republican letter said he couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“When I read the actual legislation, I thought it was so ridiculous at first, I said you have to be kidding. I thought it was possibly a prank or a joke but after finding out that it was real maybe it’s a desperate plea for attention saying hey, look at me, I don’t know why. To me this is just an unfortunate cry for attention,” Assemblyman Sam Pirozzolo (R-Castleton Corners, Staten Island) told The Jewish Link. “[The sponsor] had to know that there would be backlash over this sort of thing. I just don’t understand why anyone would be willing to put that out and send it to Jewish members of his conference. It’s an attempt at bullying. It’s an attack. It’s outright in your face. Look what I can do.”

In a separate letter, Assembly Democrats wrote about the legislation, “Its purpose is to attack Jewish organizations that have wide ranging missions from feeding the poor to providing emergency medical care for victims of terrorism to clothing orphans. This bill targets them all. In response, we say, ‘Not on our watch!’ This bill is a ploy to demonize Jewish charities with connections to Israel. It was only introduced to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and further sow divisions within the Democratic Party.”

Out of 102 Democratic members only 24 signed the letter, 12 Jewish members signed the letter, five did not and seven non-Jewish members representing a large number of Jewish constituents signed the letter.

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani (D-Astoria, Queens) signed on to sponsoring the measure after a recent meeting with pro-Palestinian groups.

“The Not on Our Dime Act only addresses charities that are found guilty of funding violations of the Geneva Convention. Characterizing an effort to bring New York in line with longstanding U.S. foreign policy as purely being motivated by a desire to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and sow division in the Democratic Party is not only disingenuous, it reveals how little regard there is for international law when it comes to Palestinians,” Mamdani wrote striking back at his colleagues. “Organizations, including Jewish organizations that feed the poor, provide emergency medical care and clothe orphans take up noble causes for which New York state should provide the benefits of charitable status. This is why the bill does not apply to such groups. The rhetorical tactics employed by this letter to suggest otherwise is an attempt to avoid the issue at hand: settlements.”

“This legislation will only impact organizations found to be supporting activities in violation of international law, such as aiding and abetting the demolition and arson of Palestinian schools, homes and agricultural land,” Mamdani added.

The letter from the Assembly Republicans was spearheaded by Assemblyman Ari Brown (R- Cedarhurst, Nassau County).

“As Americans, we believe in supporting our allies, and Israel is our most important ally in the region. Israel shares our American values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The proposed bill not only hurts Israel but also damages this vital and strategic relationship. It sends a clear message that New York state is not a friendly place for Israel or for those who offer her support,” the letter concluded. “This Assembly bill goes against the very principles of democracy and sets a dangerous precedent for others to follow. We strongly oppose this bill and urge our fellow elected officials to publicly denounce this proposal and do everything in their power to prevent this and similar legislation from becoming law.”

Other Assembly members who support the legislation are Sarahana Shrestha (D- Esopus, Ulster County), 42, a native of Kathmandu, Nepal; Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-Crown Heights, Brooklyn), 34, a Haitian immigrant; and Marcela Mitaynes (D-Sunset Park, Brooklyn), 49, a native Peruvian. In the Senate the sponsor is Jabari Brisport (D-Crown Heights/Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn), 35, a gay Caribbean-American, and cosponsored by Kristen Gonzalez (D -Long Island City, Queens), 27, of Puerto Rican descent. All five members align themselves with the Democratic Socialists of America.

Pirozzolo said he thinks if this type of legislation continues, the Democratic Party will rip themselves apart from the inside out. “The Democratic Party is being torn apart from the inside and it’s the DSAs against everybody else. The DSA is going after people constantly, one by one, more power, more power. The Democratic Party is being destroyed by themselves because they don’t work,” Pirozzolo concluded.

There was some mild pushback from Mamdani’s constituents. On Mamdani’s Facebook page there were 37 positive messages and two negative ones.

“You came from Uganda to spread your anti-Jewish hatred. We don’t need you here,” wrote Kevin Sean Donohue. Another voter expressed her dismay, “You have established yourself as a Jew hater. Congrats. Your family must be so proud, ” wrote Alice Lemos. Many positive comments included congratulations and much success in representing DSA values.

The legislation is in the Assembly Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee chaired by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-Clarkstown, Rockland County), who labels himself as a reform-minded legislator. Zebrowski did not sign the letter in opposition put forth by the Assembly Democrats. Only 10 of the 26 members on the committee signed on to the letter.

By Marc Gronich

 

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