The letter linked below was initially sent to the NYC elected officials who signed statements condemning criticism of Israel and human rights advocates at Brooklyn College, NYC's LGBT Community Center and the Park Slope Food Co-op. We now add our voices as constituents from all NYC communities.
Excerpt from the
OPEN LETTER TO NEW YORK CITY ELECTED OFFICIALS
March 12, 2012
...New York City elected officials have recently joined with powerful political forces to become a major player in silencing critics of Israel and advocates of Palestinian human rights. Elected officials have added their names to calls for censorship generated by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim extremists - highly inappropriate bedfellows for representatives of our communities.
In at least three major instances over the last year – the Park Slope Food Co-op’s discussion about holding a vote on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a presentation at Brooklyn College on BDS, and most recently the LGBT Center’s two-year ban on discussion of Palestine – our elected officials have wielded their influence to try to quash discussion with which they didn’t agree. They have written public letters outlining their own political positions, ridiculing or defaming those who disagree, and directly or implicitly threatening to pull public funding from community spaces used as forums for open discussion. Media investigation of these events makes it increasingly clear that electeds’ responses to such calls have been coordinated with promoters of the Israeli state, not with or on behalf of the communities they represent.
In addition to chilling political speech and forcing their communities to defend free speech rights against their assaults, our elected officials’ actions directly contribute to the environment of fear and violence against Arabs, Muslims, immigrants and people of color perceived as non-Jewish and non-Christian. This is an unacceptable situation.
We call on our elected officials to stop attempting to stifle political speech on Israel/Palestine, and instead, to vigorously defend it. Let us be clear: Israel is a state and Zionism an ideology. Jews are a diverse and widespread group of people. Criticizing Israel or Zionism is not anti-Jewish; it is political speech...
We call on our elected officials to transparently identify their interactions with lobby groups and other forces behind their recent efforts to chill such free speech. ...We insist on knowing the full extent to which the JCRC and other forces far beyond our communities have guided our elected officials to chill free speech in a local co-op, a public university, and an LGBT community center.
We call on our elected officials to acknowledge, and renounce, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that underlies much of the pressure to hold Israel above criticism....Elected officials cannot ignore the twisted roots of their recent bids to chill speech about Israel.
Finally, we call on our elected officials to stop using their megaphones in the media, and their influence over public funds, to demonize human rights activism. ...[BDS and anti-pinkwashing] movements are internationally recognized human rights campaigns. Regardless of our political positions, we respect human rights advocacy as critical to humanity, and we insist that our elected officials do the same.
We call on all of our elected officials to withdraw their names from any statements opposing free speech and attacking human rights advocates (as several City Councilmembers have done already) and publicly affirm that you will:
1) Support free speech, including criticism of Israel.
2) Oppose the currents of Islamophobia and racism that underly attempts to shut down free speech on Israel/Palestine.
3) Be transparent about interactions with pro-Israel lobby groups like the JCRC, which coordinated electeds' responses in all three instances.
4) Respect human rights advocates, and stand against attacks on them, regardless of whether you agree with their specific positions.