Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Woodstock Free Speech Campaign

The town of Woodstock office building on
the Comeau property, (Photo by Tony Adamis)

Dear Editor:

The Woodstock Free Speech Campaign seeks to have the Woodstock Town Board pass a resolution that states that the right to boycott, as a component of constitutionally protected free speech, is important enough to the town of Woodstock and its inhabitants that we are willing to take a stand against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s unilateral executive order that withholds state funding from organizations that promote boycotts against Israel for its human rights abuses of Palestinians.

Why should this campaign be important enough for Woodstockers and others to support? Why is it important for citizens to stop any and all encroachments on our First Amendment rights?

Free speech and the nonviolent expression of our views, whether popular or not, are the bedrock of our democracy. When the First Amendment rights of any one of us are limited or denied, can the denial of others be far behind? It’s the canary in the coal mine. It’s our early warning system. And if we ignore these first encroachments, then we are on a slippery slope.

In the next few months, there will be town educational and organizing events. Residents may sign a petition at www.woodstockfreespeech.org and share it with friends and neighbors.
end articleparagraph1.pbo start articleparagraph1.pbo

Nic Abramson

Shady, N.Y.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

See her film!

I believe in looking past my own culture to “the other side of the story.” Not long ago, I attended Bard’s first Palestinian Film Festival.  A small group of students gathered first to listen to a Palestinian American poet, Suheir Hammad.   Suheir combined the parlance of Brooklyn (where she was born in 1973 and grew up) with the ardent cries of her grandparents, refugees from Palestine.  With hip-hop beat in her spoken-word pieces, she brought in her family, her community, Palestinian women. “I grew up with a sense of loss,” she says “that you can work generations to build something and suddenly lose it all.”  

Suheir’s passionate voice rises out of her Muslim tradition, her Palestinian heritage, her Brooklyn upbringing.  The title of one of her books “Born Palestinian, Born Black” says it all. The students were enthralled with Suheir’s voice. From her poetry “Drops of this Story,” to the film in which she stars “Salt of This Sea” (to be shown this Friday night at 7 as part of the Palestinian film series at Kingston’s UU), Suheir challenges over and over again the dominant history that attempts to erase her culture.  She brings home to us “Do not fear what has blown up.  If you must, fear the unexploded.”   Watch her TED talk!  Listen to her!  Read her poetry!  See her film!  

Jane Toby
Catskill

Part of the killing machine

We have to earn our living in this world. Some of us are reduced to drudgery, some make a reasonable living. What about those members of the population who feel unhappy or guilty about their work? I wonder how many Woodstockers fit into that category?

Our largest employer, Ametek-Rotron, manufactures war materials that are part of the killing machine that so much of this country’s endless war economy is based on. Has Ametek-Rotron ever considered conversion to peaceful production? Do any of the employees feel unhappy about the widespread murder of innocent children caused by the drones they help to construct? Do they rationalize those feelings with slogans, or do they ever imagine their finger on the trigger with the nearby Woodstock school blown to bits, with blood and fire and dust clouding the air over the golf course, or perhaps the restaurant there hosting a wedding party that has been attacked.

I can’t believe that any of them see themselves as happily maintaining that sort of life. So what do they think about in relation to their work? What do they feel? How do they resolve all this? Does conscience make cowards of us all?

Jay Wenk
Woodstock

Woodstock’s Bit Part In War Crimes In Yemen

Woodstock’s Bit Part In War Crimes In Yemen

This March, Amnesty International urged the US to halt all arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia, whose air force is leading an ongoing campaign of attacks on Yemen that have resulted in numerous civilian deaths (including hundreds of children). Hospitals and residential areas have been destroyed in what Human Rights Watch called “apparent war crimes”.

Amnesty added: “Saudi Arabia’s international partners have added fuel to the fire, flooding the region with arms despite the mounting evidence that such weaponry has facilitated appalling crimes and the clear risk that new supplies could be used for serious violations ... generating a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale.”

Two months later, the Royal Saudi Air Force needed spare parts for the F-15s that are its preferred vehicle for the bombs. On May 24, Woodstock’s largest employer, the weapons contractor Ametek Rotron, obliged by signing a contract for a rush order of components for delivery direct to the Saudi Defense Ministry in Jeddah.

If this makes you feel an uncomfortable dissonance with Woodstock’s worldwide association with peace and love, it’s worth considering the broader picture. We are a small, but iconic, community; we make correspondingly small, but crucial, parts of most major American weapons systems including warplanes, tanks, nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and the rocket launchers that Saudi Arabia has also used to deliver cluster bombs in Yemen.

It’s time to move from a war economy to a peace economy. With our outsize reputation, our small town can take a lead in a wider movement towards creating an industrial base that produces windmills not weapons. A peace economy is a green economy. Companies, local governments, employees and residents can get together to envision a local economy that benefits everyone. A peace economy is a jobs economy.

May Peace Prevail On Earth, our Peace Pole proclaims. To get there we need to stop the flow of arms ... and where better than Woodstock to show the way?

Laurie Kirby
Woodstock

Friday, June 24, 2016

The true victims

And the hasbara (Israeli propaganda) is repeated. Same quotes from opinion writers and pro-Zionist sources which hardly constitute "facts." The reader should notice that rather then defend Israeli actions-- which are daily violations of International Law and the Fourth Geneva Conventions (Separation Wall found illegal by the World Court in 2004; collective punishment; settling land taken during an offensive war - 1967) and US law (using American weapons against civilian population) --claims are made that the true victims here, the Palestinian people, are the perpetrators.

What some do not want to understand is that an occupying power does NOT have a right under International Law to claim self-defense against those being occupied. Israel does this repeatedly. Israeli Zionists hope to sew confusion in America as to what is really happening. A fiction has been developed and spread far and wide in order to transform a brutal, criminal occupation into a benign partnership with many rewards IF ONLY those bestial Arabs weren't so ignorant.

I ask you this: Imagine after decades of illegal immigration, which the authorities would not stop, brutal acts of violence against you and your family led to your land, home, business and way of life being actually taken by those illegal immigrants. Any attempt by you to regain what was thieved was considered "terrorism" and was thwarted by not only the illegal immigrants but their superpower ally. International Law and the United Nations, while providing more than enough provisions for a legal rendering in your favor kept being ignored because, well, because that superpower ally wouldn't allow justice to prevail.

Would you simply give up? Or, would you be attempting to gain back what was illegally taken from you?

If you're honest, if you empathize with the true victims in the above scenario, then you should support Palestinians in their cause.

Steven L. Fornal

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Please sign our online petition

Free Speech

Our First Amendment rights are under attack. On June 5th Governor Cuomo signed executive order #157 that divests New York State funds from any companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel. It also creates a blacklist of those companies that is public and that will take input from the general public. And Governor Cuomo had the temerity to say that "we'll boycott those who boycott."

The Supreme Court in its 1982 NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware Co decision recognized boycotts as a First Amendment form of protected free speech. This means it is wrong for New York State to penalize those who engage in constitutionally protected free speech, whether Governor Cuomo agrees with their points of view or not. And having New York State assess our political motivations and then create a database of those it disagrees with is a serious threat to our civil liberties.

Boycotts have long been recognized as a legitimate and non-violent method of trying to change behavior. History is replete with examples: from our forefathers refusal to pay taxes to the British without representation, to Ghandi's Salt Strike, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to the boycotting of South Africa, to today's boycotting of North Carolina for its discrimination against the Transgender community.

In reaction to Governor Cuomo's boycott ban, I and other Woodstock citizens are organizing a campaign to have the Woodstock Town Board pass a resolution that reaffirms our rights to free speech and our rights to boycott. It is important for individuals and communities to defend their basic human rights when they are under attack. We are planning a series of informational sessions and a petition campaign as a show of community involvement in a lead up to the introduction of the resolution for a town board vote.

If you believe in free speech, please sign our online petition and follow our progress at WoodstockFreeSpeech.org. Please inform your friends and neighbors and ask them to join us.

Nic Abramson
Shady, NY

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

McCarthyism is wrong

Whatever your views on Israel/Palestine . . . , McCarthyism is wrong                                                                      
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 157, which he signed on Sunday, June 5, should be of concern to each and every one of us. This executive order threatens the rights of Americans to take collective action to address injustice by using boycott as a form of free expression and as a powerful means of protest. Furthermore, the creation of the related discriminatory “blacklist,” which the New York Office of General Services will post on its website and update semi-annually, is blatantly dangerous.
Thankfully, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects our right to free speech. This means we are allowed to express, be exposed to, and receive a wide range of facts, opinions, and viewpoints – even when the ideas are unpopular.  Under this umbrella of free speech, Americans have the right to boycott, and we have a long history of using boycott as a tactic to achieve justice.  Let’s remember that before the American Revolution, colonists boycotted British goods (think, “no taxation without representation”?) and that, since then, American citizens (and corporations) involved in social justice movements have used boycotts for issues ranging from Animal Rights, Testing, and Welfare; to Civil Rights; to Environmental Health/Integrity; to Human Rights; to LGBTQ Discrimination; to Labor and Worker Rights; to . . .   
We can look back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights era to fight segregated buses; to Cesar Chavez’s boycott of grapes to fight the toxic spraying of insecticides; to the boycott of South Africa to end apartheid; to the more recent fast-food worker boycotts to raise the minimum wage; and to peoples/corporations current refusal to do business with North Carolina for its recent banning of local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and its requirement that transgender people use public bathrooms that match their birth certificates. The list goes on.
However, Governor Cuomo’s shameful signing of Executive Order No. 157 against institutions and companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), an international, grassroots, nonviolent movement to gain freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians, goes against this history. Perhaps the only good news here is that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution still guarantees our right to advocate for change, to organize against injustice, to engage in boycotts, and, yes, to advocate for BDS. 
To learn more, go to palestinelegal.org/newyork
The #RightToBoycott is a constitutionally protected form of political free speech. 
We will not be silent.

Helaine Meisler

In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights

As veterans and as members of Veterans For Peace, we have not forgotten our oath to protect the Constitution, but even if we were not  veterans, there are fundamental rights that any citizen would not want to see violated. The First Amendment comes to mind.

In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order that would create a blacklist of groups, institutions, and businesses that support or advocate a boycott of Israel. It would also withdraw State funds from any organization or institution that in any way supports or endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as a tool in the struggle against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

The BDS movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, is now a global campaign using nonviolent means to place economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law; end the occupation of Palestinian land, including Gaza; grant full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
For almost 70 years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.

The right to express solidarity and join the BDS movement is a fundamental right of all people. It is also a clear expression of the First Amendment.  All veterans took an oath to defend the Constitution and to stand for the right of free speech, and many died thinking they were protecting those rights for all people.

It is worth noting that the New York State legislature failed to pass similar legislation making it illegal to advocate BDS largely because of obvious questions about its constitutionality.

Unfortunately Gov. Cuomo has surrendered to pressure from the powerful Israeli lobby and is disregarding both the U.S. Constitution and the illegality of the Israeli occupation.

In a classic example of hypocrisy and doublespeak, turning a blind eye toward blatant Israeli discrimination against the Palestinian people, Gov. Cuomo stated that “this state will not stand for the politics of discrimination in any form . . . and will do everything in its power to end the hateful, intolerant campaign.”

How different from the great South African civil rights advocate, Desmond Tutu, who said, "I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces . . . Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government."

Bishop Tutu early on declared his full support for the use of boycotts and economic sanctions as a nonviolent means to compel Israel to alter its policies, noting their effectiveness in the successful struggle against South African apartheid. Veterans For Peace fully supports peoples right to free speech and also stands with Desmond Tutu and many other human rights advocates who support the international BDS campaign.  

Tarak Kauff
Veterans For Peace
Board of Directors
Managing Editor
Peace In Our Times

Governor Cuomo embarrasses and discredits himself

To the Editor:

On Sunday, Governor Cuomo exceeded his authority and issued an executive decree seeking to silence New Yorkers who are calling for a boycott of Israel in an attempt to win equality and human rights for Palestinians ("Cuomo to Halt State Business With Groups That Back Boycott of Israel"). He needs to cancel this unconstitutional decree without delay.

Boycott is a time-honored and non-violent method that has been used to defeat discriminatory and oppressive systems throughout history:  recent examples are the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott to confront racial segregation; the boycott of California grapes to help farmworkers win improvements in their wages and conditions; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions against South Africa to force that country to abandon its system of white domination. Governor Cuomo himself declared a boycott on state-financed trips to North Carolina in response to that state's discriminatory legislation against trans people. 

Boycotts seek to change specific policies, and the boycott of Israel is no exception. It seeks an end to the half-century-long occupation of the West Bank; an end to the brutal 10-year-long siege of Gaza; equal rights before the law for Palestinians  inside Israel itself; and the right of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes since 1948 and lands and now living in squalid refugee camps, many of them for generations, to return to their country. These are all demands upheld by international law and supported by almost every government in the world.

By trying to stifle political speech, Governor Cuomo embarrasses and discredits himself. But there is no way that the movement for justice for Palestinians will somehow melt away under this blow. Our First Amendment rights are too important for that. See you in court, Andy!



Naomi Allen

Governor Cuomo would stoop so low

To the Editor:

Sadly, Governor Cuomo’s recent Executive Order punishing BDS supporters shows that he is more interested in pandering to a small segment of his constituency rather than supporting honest, open, and free political speech. Boycotts have always been a powerful vehicle for expressing political views and fostering change. Our nation has a long tradition of boycotts beginning with the boycott of British products which helped to spark the Revolutionary War which led to our independence. Recent boycotts have helped secure civil rights, labor rights, women's rights, and animal rights. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is a non-violent call to address the deprivation of Palestinian human rights. BDS calls for the end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land. BDS calls for equal treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians. Lastly, BDS calls for the return of land, farms, and homes which were stolen from Palestinians. In recent years BDS has gained momentum and hopefully this peaceful movement will result in changes to Israel's apartheid policies. Governor Cuomo’s wrongheaded attempt at curtailing our First Amendment right of free speech (which includes the blacklisting of boycotters) is not only disgraceful and unconstitutional, it is downright embarrassing. I wonder if this shameless and illegal behavior by an elected official is grounds for impeachment? In a state with such rampant corruption among elected officials perhaps it is not so surprising that Governor Cuomo would stoop so low. Hopefully, the Governor will see the error in his ways and rescind the order.

Eli Kassirer New Paltz, NY

Forgetting the Liberty

Gov. Cuomo — forgetting the Liberty


Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from  a boycott movement.
Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from a boycott movement.
Today is June 8, the 49th anniversary of an event that has been all but erased from the national memory, that is, the attack on the American naval vessel the USS Liberty by our great partner in peace and democracy, Israel, killing 34 American servicemen and wounding 171. It’s an occasion that this year has been marked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — accidentally, and incongruously — with an executive order requiring New York State agencies to divest from any companies that participate in the growing boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, we’ll boycott you,” the governor declared at a signing ceremony on Sunday, which was Celebrate Israel Day, before marching in the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The governor thus put himself at the service of Israel’s international campaign to quash the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement, known as BDS, that was launched in 2005 by leaders of Palestinian civic organizations and that has been growing ever since. Quash it Israel must, if it is not to go the way of South Africa and transform itself from an ethnically exclusivist state to a state of equal rights for all. A boycott, after all, was a major factor in South Africa’s makeover.
Israel has committed $26 million to the anti-BDS effort, and American Jewish potentates led by Sheldon Adelson have committed another $50 million. The effort involves getting institutions of higher learning, like the University of California, to link criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and pressuring state legislatures, like New York’s, to pass laws punishing organizations that participate in BDS. The New York State Senate graciously obliged, but the bill it passed is hung up in the Assembly, so Gov. Cuomo boldly acted on his own, explaining that legislation “can often be a tedious affair.”

Now the state Office of General Services will be required to draw up a blacklist of companies and organizations that participate in the boycott of the Jewish State, and state agencies will have to pull out any money they have invested in those companies. The practical effect might not be great: How many companies boycott Israel? Probably not many. Boycotters tend to be religious, labor and academic organizations. But the politics for Cuomo is irresistible, meaning the play for the Jewish vote, to put it baldly, and the audience for his order-signing reflected that — a small sea of yarmulkes. The Jewish persons of my own acquaintance tend to be dismayed at Israel’s continuing military occupation of 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and blockading of 1.7 million more in Gaza, but the most prominent Jewish organizations, like the regional Jewish Federations and the Hillels, not to mention prominent donors and politicians, tend to be cheerleaders for Israel, and they are all in a lather about BDS, so the governor surely made the correct calculation.

I bet he didn’t give a moment’s thought to the USS Liberty. As far as that goes, I wouldn’t be surprised if he never heard of it.

The USS Liberty was a state-of-the art surveillance ship that the Navy parked off the coast of Israel, in international waters, during the Six Day War, in 1967, to monitor electronic communications as Israel flattened the Egyptian air force and prepared to storm the Golan Heights of Syria. It was clearly marked in large letters, fore and aft, and flew a 5-by-8-foot American flag.

The USS Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
The US Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
On June 8, at the height of hostilities and in clear weather, Israeli jets overflew the ship several times before attacking it with rocket fire and napalm. The aerial attack continued for half an hour, at the end of which Israeli gunboats came in for the kill, firing torpedoes as sailors attempted to lower lifeboats. American rescue aircraft were twice dispatched from Sixth Fleet carriers and twice were called back, leaving the Liberty to its fate. When the assault was over, Israel said, whoops, it was all a mistake, we thought the ship was Egyptian, and apologized. The U.S. accepted the apology along with $6 million in compensation plus a similar amount for the families of the dead and wounded, and that was the end of the matter. Gone and best not talked about.

Dean Rusk, secretary of state at the time, later wrote: “I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

George Ball, under-secretary of state, summed it up: “American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of its citizens.”
That was forty-nine years ago today, and if you see a mention of it in any newspaper or hear a mention of it on any television news show, please let me know. What we have instead is an executive order to punish anyone who dares not to do business with Israel, along with a promise by New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce comparable legislation on the national level.