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New York Governor Cuomo's Anti-BDS Executive Order Parallels NY, CA Bills

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has garnered criticism from free speech advocates this week when he issued an executive order directing New York's state agencies to divest public funds from entities supporting campaigns to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, the California legislature has also been considering anti-BDS legislation.

In California, AB 2844 has only managed to move forward with significant amendments that have removed specific mention of Israel from the legislation. But the California bill, which has passed the state assembly and now heads to the state senate, carries a similar message: public agencies and authorities would be barred from doing business with entities that endorse boycott, divestment from, and sanctions of "recognized sovereign nations or peoples."

Cuomo's executive order, signed on Sunday, came in spite of a New York Senate bill under consideration that could accomplish the same end goal: restrict spending of public funds on companies or institutions boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel.

The pending New York legislation, however, is opposed by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, among other groups.

Governor Cuomo Signs Executive Order No. 157 by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on YouTube

The executive order states that "the State of New York unequivocally rejects the BDS campaign and stands firmly with Israel" and goes on to require that the New York Office of General Services come up with a list of companies that are pro-BDS -- and therefore not eligible for public contracts -- within six months.

Cuomo defended his executive order in a Washington Post op-ed Friday morning.

Many groups and individuals across the country and around the world have since come out arguing that the executive order Cuomo signed is unconstitutional, while supporters of the executive order have been expressing their gratitude.

The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concern that the order threatens political speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Simon McCormack, a communications officer for New York Civil Liberties Union, writes on the ACLU website, "The order itself makes clear that the activity the governor wants to punish is political in nature. But, as the Supreme Court made clear, government can't penalize people or entities on the basis of their free expression, and political boycotts are a form of free expression."

McCormack adds that the governor's executive order, which was effective immediately, requires companies or institutions suspected of supporting the BDS movement to provide evidence that they are not supporters or face being blacklisted.

Under the executive order, companies and institutions will bear the burden of proving that they are either neutral in the BDS movement or against the BDS movement. If they can't disprove the allegations, companies and institutions operating in New York could face financial and professional ramifications.

"But Cuomo's action marks the first time a governor has acted unilaterally against the movement," McCormack writes.

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and South Carolina have already enacted anti-BDS legislation while many other U.S. states are considering similar legislation.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi

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