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Following Cuomo's Lead, Jewish Leaders Ask Federal Government To Oppose Israel Boycott

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo waded into the Middle East conflict this past weekend with an executive order opposing the Palestinian-backed economic boycott of Israel, and on Monday, Jewish leaders were asking the federal government to do the same.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the Middle East conflict is not just about missiles and guns anymore. It is about a Palestinian demand for economic sanctions against Israel – a movement called BDS, or boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Jewish leaders want Congress to pass a law that says the government will not do business with companies who support BDS.

"It's the 21st century's expression of anti-Semitism – that you hate the corporate Jew; the collective Jew; the state of Israel – even if you can't say, 'I hate Jews,'" said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "This is an important way to put a stop to it."

The demand for federal legislation coming as Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order forcing state agencies to stop doing business with companies and organizations that support the boycott. He said it is worse than those Palestinians who dig tunnels into Israel to smuggle weapons.

"You are dealing with an enemy who is obsessed and single-minded," Cuomo said Sunday. "And as frightening as those tunnels are, and as radical as the mindset and obsessive as the mindset that built those tunnels, this BDS movement is in many ways more frightening."

The moves by Cuomo and Jewish leaders to fight BDS infuriate members of the Palestinian community.

"I think it's an infringement on our constitutional rights. I mean, during the South Africa period, we were able to divest in South Africa freely," said community activist Zead Ramadan. "This is nonviolent freedom of expression. I get to say where my money goes. I get to say how I feel about governmental issues around this nation or others."

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) supports a bill in Congress that authorizes local governments to divest in companies that engage in BDS.

"It's important to remember that Israel's safety is always at risk," Schumer said.

Several other states have moved to support Israel, and have stopped doing business with companies that support BDS. But Cuomo's move has such a huge symbolic and political effect because New York state has the largest number of Jewish residents outside Israel.

The BDS movement is more than a decade old. But officials say they are worried because of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents, especially on American college campuses.

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