Town bans contracts with companies boycotting Israel

Town bans contracts with companies boycotting Israel
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth speaks at a previous town board meeting. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

The Town of North Hempstead voted on Tuesday to avoid contracts with companies that boycott Israel.

The board voted unanimously to approve the law that bars the town from working with companies that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The town did not contract with any companies that boycott Israel before the legislation was passed.

“The BDS movement is driven by anti-Semitism and is meant to punish Israel in order to cause its economic collapse,” town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “We will not stand for it. It is important that we condemn this BDS movement and declare that the town will not do business with companies that participate in it.”

The movement began in 2005, when Palestinian civil society groups called for use of the three tactics as a means of nonviolent pressure on Israel to end what they deemed an illegal occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, gain recognition of equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel and achieve a right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes, according to the Palestinian BDS National Committee. It is the coalition of Palestinian organizations that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, often referred to as BDS.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in June that instructs public agencies to divest from companies deemed to support BDS.

“This is something that is very personal to me,” Councilwoman Lee Seeman said. “I am proud to be in support of this town’s anti-BDS legislation.

“I am all for it,” Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio said. “The movement is without question anti-Semitic cloaked in political speech.”

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, many residents spoke in favor of the legislation, commending the board for taking action.

“This is just a thinly veiled form of anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Shalom Paltiel of the Chabad of Port Washington. “You’re standing up against anti-Semitism, you’re at a time when the climate today on college campuses in our country is horrific. I salute you for taking a leadership stand.”

Although many supported the legislation, some residents called it a political move to try to curtail the right to speak out — a move a town board should not make.

“You’re a town board, not a foreign policy board,” John O’Kelly, a resident, said. “It’s really beyond your jurisdiction.”

O’Kelly said board members should have let residents know they would pass this legislation before they ran.

“Personally, I hear all this about how Israel is our biggest friend and Israel is a democracy, I think Israel has caused more damage to the United States than any single country in our history and is continuing to cause more damage,” O’Kelly said.

Liz Berney, the executive director of the Long Island chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, said the legislation does not silence speech.

“The bill raises absolutely no free speech issues,” Berney said. “The Town of North Hempstead’s legislation targets discriminatory economic activity, not speech. A contractor with the Town of North Hempstead is still allowed to say whatever he wishes to say.”

The board also held a public hearing on legislation that would ban all-terrain vehicles from operating on town property.

The board did not vote on the law, and the public hearing was adjourned until later this month.

Residents said a small group of people have been riding ATVs on the trails of the wetlands in Port Washington across from North Hempstead Beach Park.

Ronald Rochester, a retired law enforcement official from Port Washington, said he has seen the group riding multiple times.

He also has seen them lighting fires to cook food in the woods, he said.

ATVs are currently banned in Nassau County and Suffolk County.

De Giorgio said the law would be looked at again because the town wants make sure its law aligns with the county’s law.

De Giorgio discussed adding a seizure clause, which would allow the police to impound the ATVs.

Port Washington Police Chief James Salerno said he was in favor of a seizure clause.

“I believe if we impound one ATV, we can curtail the problem,” he said. “They are a small group.”

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