Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our Free Speech

If you’re someone like I, who, not only has opinions, but also wants to express them, then you’ll understand why the First Amendment is so important. When my government, or for that matter, when anyone, is committing horrendous acts, or simply acts of which I disapprove, I should have the inalienable right, and, in my mind, the obligation to loudly and clearly express my disapproval. My government neither has the right to censure me nor to limit my free speech by withdrawing their services or their financial support. And, this right does not apply only to me.

So, although I abhor Donald Trump and find his opinions and attitudes reprehensible, I fully support his right to say them and his supporters’ right to embrace them. And, I support the rights of David Duke, whom I condemn, and Joseph McCarthy, whom I condemned, as well as the free speech rights of everyone. Free speech is non-discriminatory. Free speech is not only an essential part of democracy, but the very bedrock upon which our other freedoms rest. So, I hope you’ll support my First Amendment rights, as well as your own, by urging our town board to pass the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution ( that affirms our rights to free speech.

Nic Abramson

Saturday, August 20, 2016

To the Editor:

Sadly, Israel has become a rogue nation and a pariah state to much of the international community. Human rights abuses, military occupation, illegal settlements, home demolitions, brutal invasions (resulting in the deaths of over 500 children), and a cruel blockade that causes food and water shortages for more than a million Palestinians all contribute to Israel’s isolation in the world.  

Of course, Israel needs to be criticized and Israel needs to change. Any government (whether it be China, Saudi Arabia, Hondouras, or the US) needs to be criticized when repeatedly violating human rights and inflicting humiliation and suffering on innocent peoples. The state of Israel could not commit any of these abuses without the $3.5 Billion of US taxpayers dollars that go to Israel every year.  

Clearly, it is not anti-semitic to criticize the policies of the government of Israel. The sad truth is that Israel’s policies and actions have generated a worldwide backlash of antagonism and hatred towards Israel. And tragically, Israel’s policies and actions incite and provoke those who are genuinely anti-semitic.  

I would encourage Americans who truly care about the future of Israel to advocate for changes in Israeli policy that would promote real peace and justice for all. The future is indeed bleak for an Israel bent on maintaining an apartheid, colonial, settler state. The future Israel may not look like a Zionist dream, but hopefully, it will be a peaceful and just nation inhabited by both Jews and Arabs. 

Eli Kassirer

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights

Many of us watched the attack on free speech that took place over the last several years at Vassar College. An African American freshman was expelled and an entire student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, was stripped of its status as a campus organization. First, President Hill accused the group of lacking "curtesy on campus" and creating fear in Jewish students by talking about the plight of the Palestinians. Then came the Zionist placed articles in the media - "Hatred on the Hudson" in the "Daily News," and "Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar" in the "Wall Street Journal." Finally, President Hill, pressured by pro-Zionist alumni , condemned a lecture by visiting Rutgers professor, Dr. Jasbir Puar. Unfortunately, the criticism was based on second hand reports of what the professor had actually said about Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians. Hundreds of academics across the country immediately signed a petition defending Dr. Puar's right for free speech on campus. President Hill's attack was particularly egregious since Jewish Studies Program faculty at Vassar had sponsored the Puar lecture.

When the student government passed a resolution last spring advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, President Hill threatened to withhold funding for all student groups on campus. While Hill resigned a few months later, the battle for free speech on campus continues. 

Governor Cuomo's recent executive oder brings this fight closer to home. Indicating that any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitism, he plans to defund all groups in the state that support boycott, divestment and sanctions. The order also establishes a vaguely defined "blacklist" of supposed anti-Semitic groups advocating BDS. Citizens of New York State haven't seen this type of government sponsored blacklisting since the McCarthy era.

No country should escape responsibility for human rights abuses. Invasions and occupations of other peoples have always been wrapped in the flags of nationalism, patriotism, and religion. We as free citizens of a democracy must always defend our rights to criticize such human rights abusers and apartheid states, lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights for free speech and expression.

In the Mid Hudson Valley, the fight to preserve free speech starts with Please sign the petition guaranteeing citizens the right to boycott racism and injustice wherever they rear their ugly heads. 

Fred Nagel

Each generation has had to demand their right to be heard

Historically, empires have viewed the rest of the world through a very narrow lens. Other lands are seen as opportunities to rob or enslave. In late empire, the treatment of foreign subjects becomes the norm for abuses of its own citizenry. 

With 800 US bases overseas, America can be viewed as the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Its endless wars abroad has brought home a particularly vicious form of racism along with all the high tech weaponry to create havoc in a divided society. 

America's colony, Israel, is a perfect example. It's intense racism directed at its Palestinian minority gets defended by our Congress, setting an example for this country. Racism is OK if it targets a particular religious group or skin color; that's the way the empire works.

So it is no surprise that Governor Cuomo's recent executive order forbids groups or businesses to boycott Israeli products. Boycotts, part of many human rights campaigns, have always been viewed as threats by the elites. Outlawing the right to boycott is really the first step to criminalizing any speech that the empire deems offensive. What would happen if the majority of US citizens really demanded human rights in the rest of the world? Who could the empire assassinate with drones, or torture in hidden prisons? What countries could the empire invade and occupy, killing millions in the process? And how could it possibly protect its colony, Israel, with its sixty five year history of ethnic cleansing and genocide? 

The right of citizens to boycott is protected by our First Amendment and by various Supreme Court decisions on political speech. But that is clearly not enough to stop our governor from trampling on our rights. One town, Woodstock, is fighting back by considering a resolution that limits Governor Cuomo's executive order. 

You can do your part by signing the Town of Woodstock's resolution at, and then by attending some of the events being planned. The resolution will be introduced at the July 19 town board meeting, and a panel discussion will be presented the following Friday, July 22, starting at 7 PM in the Woodstock Town Hall. 

Standing up for freedom of expression has never been easy, and each generation has had to demand their right to be heard. Now, it's our turn to ensure that the state does not destroy our First Amendment rights.

Fred Nagel

The basic racism in our political system

The Woodstock Town Board is discussing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions issue that is confronting state governments around the country. The right to express moral outrage at economic and social injustices has never been more under attack than it is today, when the NYS legislature and Governor are attempting to outlaw BDS.

How different this effort is to the use of boycott and divestment by state officials to pressure Swiss banks to do the right thing in 1997. A collaborative effort by NYC Comptroller Alan Hevesi, NY Comptroller Carl McCall, and the World Jewish Congress pressured Swiss banks to pay much more in Holocaust reparations. Hevesi was also the head of the US Comptroller's Association, with $30 trillion in pension investments. Soon officials from many states threatened to withdraw funds, leading to a settlement of $1.25 billion from Swiss banks that profited from genocide.

Now the NY State Legislature wants to criminalize the very same economic pressure to do the right thing for millions of Palestinians living under brutal Israeli occupation. Where did all the moral indignation go? Is the suffering of Palestinians somehow less compelling than the suffering of others? Instead of using pension funds as a moral weapon against racism and injustice, our legislature and governor are criminalizing such boycott and divestment, making it illegal for institutions or NGO's funded by the state to implement any form of BDS. 

This is a free speech issue, and a moral issue that explores the basic racism in our political system.

Fred Nagel

Letter to the Editor

By now I imagine many of your readers have caught the stream of information relating to the campaign. The campaign is a response to Governor Cuomo's Executive Order 157 which penalizes, and intends to blacklist,  institutions which engage in first amendment protected activities. Not only is this act illegal, it breeches a trust that is established between elected officials and civil society: that elected officials uphold their oath to office and protect the citizens they've been elected to serve. Rather, what has taken place is some not-well understood subservience to a foreign government which undermines the Bill of Rights and usurps the US and NYS Constitutions.

This subservience is being investigated in a Freedom of Information Act request by a number of legal and justice groups. Perhaps this FOIA request will shed light on the motivation for the Governor putting a foreign nation's security above our right to speak freely and act according to our sense of justice by engaging in politically motivated academic, cultural and economic boycotts of a country which engages in systemic gross human rights violations. 

Aside from the sad human tragedy of a belligerent occupier unable to see their brothers as sisters in humanity and aside from the grotesque distortions about culture, identity, victim and perpetrator sewn via the military industrial media academic complex, the core issue here is self determination – the principles of which evolved as part of our human intellectual, philosophical and moral dialectic leading to the establishment of democratic institutions and the conventions on international human rights law. 

To know, to think, and to feel the injustices that our brothers and sisters under military occupation are suffering is both mind blowing and spirit shattering. To know that our government is the primary support of the violence and oppression is intolerable. To see the Governor of NY state acting apparently at the behest of a foreign nation to undermine our rights is egregious if not treasonous.

Such actions require a greater and opposing force to restore our most basic rights: that the Governor should rescind his executive order (in the very least). To that end, will continue with it's public events around the issue; the next event (see website ) will be a World Cafe style community dialog about the Free Speech Resolution this Friday at the Woodstock Town Hall. 

Adam Roufberg