The New York Civil Liberties Union is urging Nassau to repeal a bill passed last year prohibiting companies from doing business with the county if they have boycotted or divested from Israeli businesses or supported sanctions against Israel, arguing the law is “unconstitutional.”
In a letter Monday to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Susan Gottehrer, the NYCLU’s Nassau chapter director, says the county’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions law violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it targets political speech.
BDS supporters want to end international support for what it characterizes as Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
“Nassau County cannot be in the business of telling people what to say or think,” wrote Gottehrer. “The BDS movement is a form of protected political speech.”
County officials have said they stand by the BDS law and argue it protects Nassau residents against hate speech.
The NYCLU’s letter comes as Nassau lawmakers and religious leaders have urged Nassau Events Center, the Brooklyn-based operator of the renovated Nassau Coliseum, to cancel Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ scheduled concerts at the arena on Friday and Saturday.
Waters, an outspoken BDS supporter, has been labeled an anti-Semite by the Anti-Defamation League and his concerts often feature visuals such a flying pig emblazoned with a Star of David and a dollar sign.
In July, County Attorney Carnell Foskey threatened to take “appropriate legal action” against NEC if the Waters concerts went on. But Foskey this week said the concerts would go on as planned.
“After extensive legal review, we had already determined that factual issues and a lack of legal precedent have precluded success if the county were to litigate,” he said in a statement.
Under the law passed by the Republican-controlled county legislature, companies seeking county work that have participated in BDS activities would be deemed “nonresponsive” bidders.
Participation is defined as “any action politically motivated and intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations with Israeli-owned or controlled businesses.”
Jeff Gewirtz, chief legal and administrative officer at NEC, said Waters’ opinions are protected speech and the concerts do not violate the county’s law.
In an Op-Ed this week in The New York Times, Waters said anti-BDS laws across the country are an “insidious effort to silence supporters of Palestinian human rights.”
Jewish advocacy groups StandWithUs and Artists 4 Israel were scheduled to protest Tuesday’s concert in Brooklyn.
A truck will circle the borough with a digital ad that reads “Roger Waters: We Don’t Need Your Hate & Censorship Against Israel.” Organizers also have a 15-foot inflatable Pinocchio holding a sign that reads “Roger Waters: We Don’t Need Your Lies About Israel.”
The groups will not protest in Nassau because the concerts fall on the Jewish Sabbath.