Israel-First McCarthyism: Cuomo’s vow to spy on, punish BDS Activists in long Tradition

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

After New York governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing the state to monitor and sanction activists in the Boycott, Sanctions and Divest Movement (BDS) against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, critics complained that the order is McCarthyism. They objected that social and economic boycotts have been used in instances such as South Africa’s racial segregation or Apartheid. Interference in such a social and political movement in protest of injustice, they aver, is contrary to the first amendment. (Cuomo’s executive order will certainly be struck down by the courts). The order is creepy, since it suggests that Cuomo will have New York state bureaucrats combing through citizens’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to see if they support BDS, and then find ways of punishing them (no contracts from the state, no state jobs, no internships).

The objections of Cuomo’s critics are often naive, given the actual record of the Israel lobbies in the United States, some of which have sometimes played Sen. Joseph McCarthy all on their own.

The Anti-Discrimination League (ADL), for instance, only poses as a human rights organization. It has at least sometimes functioned as an intelligence organization working on behalf of a foreign state.

Back in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, at the height of the anti-Apartheid movement, the Israeli government was a firm supporter of the racist faction of Afrikaaners. The Israeli government even offered nukes to the white supremacist South African government for use on its African neighbors if they became too uppity. It appears to have instructed the ADL in the US to spy on anti-Apartheid activists, who were engaged in a boycott, divest and sanctions campaign against Praetoria. Many of the same groups were also involved in pro-Palestinian activities.

The ADL in the San Francisco Bay area carefully compiled files on 10,000 Americans and 600 organizations. One ADL secret agent leaked the files on the anti-Apartheid activists, and South Africans in political exile, to the Apartheid government, with potentially dire consequences for any of them that the South African secret police could get hold of.

It is worth noting that President Barack Obama gave his first political speech, in 1981 on the Occidental campus, against Apartheid. Maybe the ADL has a file on him somewhere.

Jeffrey Blankfort reports, based on the dossier of ADL activities ordered released when it lost the suit the activists brought against it, that “The ADL supplied confidential information to foreign governments that it obtained from police and federal agencies in the US.”

One of the people on which the ADL was spying, the non-violent activist Alex Odeh of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was assassinated in 1985; (there is no evidence of a connection).

The same wealthy funders who payed the ADL to undertake this vast domestic spying operation on behalf of two foreign governments underwrite Andrew Cuomo’s political campaign, and have bribed him to turn the state of New York itself into an ADL San Francisco style monitoring and punishing organization.

The point of spying on people is not only to gather information on them but also to intimidate and block them. That is the point of knowing who they are, where they live, and of keeping files on them that can be slipped to a potential employer at the appropriate moment.

Many US ethnic lobbying groups are driven by foreign nationalisms and many of them engage in smear campaigns and dirty tricks. The Israel lobbies aren’t distinctive in this regard, though they are typically better heeled and better organized and better connected politically.

Personally, I don’t support boycotts of Israel proper, though I think the West Bank squatters on Palestinian territory have to be boycotted as a matter of international law. But the Israel lobbies are making a huge error in having Cuomo play Sen Joe McCarthy for them. They will enlist on the side of the BDS activists a whole phalanx of civil and human rights organizations that might otherwise not be sympathetic to them. They have made Israel even more unsympathetic –after years of far right wing Likud government and senseless violence against Palestinians and fruitless assaults like those on Gaza. And they have positioned the pro-Israel cause as a danger to the US constitution.

Attorney Joseph Welch became famous for standing up to Sen. McCarthy. What is often not realized is that Welch was the attorney for the US Army. That’s right, the lunatic McCarthy was investigating the alleged Communist activities of the US Army.

This was the moment when Welch began bringing the country to its senses:

“Mr. Welch: You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

And thus we all say, who care about the first amendment and American civil liberties and basic human rights– thus we all say to Andrew Cuomo today.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “New York To Sanction Israel Boycotters”

22 Responses

  1. Several points:

    (A) it is likely that the Gov. Cuomo executive order will be subject to legal challenge for violating the First Amendment;

    (B) BDS is being hotly debated on U.S. college campuses with student bodies considering resolutions to support BDS against Israel;

    (C) After Wayne State University in Detroit had became the first American student student body to pass aresolution of support for BDS against Israel, other student governments – including University of Michigan-Dearborn passed similar measures;

    (C) Israeli news outlets have covered the BDS resolution votes of American colleges as serious issues -suggesting that BDS is a cause of general concern to Israeli public.

    Here are relevant links:

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  2. It’s not the Anti-Discrimination League (ADL), but the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Please correct.

  3. This action tells us a couple of things: 1) Andrew Coumo,as the author states, is, like many of our political leaders, owned by wealthy Zionists, and 2) BDS is effective. I personally,however, don’t think this is McCarthyism so much as it is fascism pure and simple.

  4. I would bet their file on Prof. Cole takes up an entire file cabinet.

    Couple this anti free speech law with Sen. Boxer and husband attempting to make it illegal and worthy of being dismissed as a student or faculty on a California campus just for speaking or writing anti Israel remarks.

    Speaking of denying free speech it took an odd form this past week. I happen to detest Mr. Trump but it was disturbing to watch Latinos chasing Trump supporters through the streets of San Jose. These thugs and their sucker punches brought back memories of blacks being beaten by rednecks in the streets of Selma and Jews being kicked and beaten by Nazis in pre war Germany.

    This will be an election to remember and I fear not in a good way.

    • There’s been plenty of violence by Trump supporters against protesters, and no consequences. Your memories should be of Nelson Mandela’s supporters executing traitors in horrific fashion, or our glorious Revolutionary War patriots driving loyalists out of their homes. The good guys often do bad things, but the world understands it’s different when the oppressed turn on their oppressors.

  5. Lux Adams

    @Glinner This is how strong BDS has become! Israel is panicking when it orders the US to violate its own constitution.

  6. Somewhat off topic but I find this in my inbox:

    Councils in the UK have voted to support BDS and to exclude companies that aid and abet Israel’s crimes from public contracts. Now the government wants to ban councils from these kinds of steps.

    which led me to this:

    The Conservative Party press release announcing the plan named it as a response to the “spread of militant divestment campaigns against UK defence and Israeli firms.”

  7. The only difference between Andrew Coumo and Donald Trump’s bizarre pronunciations is that Coumo has the (abused) power to enforce them.

  8. Great report. More sad and disturbing news from our politicians in a year of sad and disturbing political news. It’s enough to make one wonder if our form of mass-media-money democracy can work. The founders of the Republic certainly were dubious about unfettered democracy. Of course, the days of smoke- filled rooms weren’t so great either. Benevolent philosopher-kings don’t have a great track record either.

    By the way, I’ve never understood what private-sector BDS limited to the settlements could have achieved, as a practical matter, given U.S. support for Israel. That seemed like a prescription to salve the conscience of liberal Zionists who want to avoid any actual inconvenience to Israel. BDS backed up by the UN and its member states, including the U.S., might have been another matter, even if limited to the West Bank and Gaza. But that seems a moot, counterfactual, historical speculation.

  9. I am curious, Professor Cole, why you object to sanctioning Israel proper? It’s the real cause of the statelessness of the Palestinians and the usurpation of their lands and resources. Worse than the blacks in South Africa! Is your position based on morality, legality or just practicality?

    • Not a fan of boycotts. USG uses them to stop us talking to Iran and Cuba and I believe in talking to people.

      • I suggest there is a vast difference between govt. dictated sanctions eg. Iraq, Iran and those originating from calls by those who are oppressed and who are supported by members of civil society in other countries who heed their calls. It is interesting to note that the activities of those supporting such boycotts are subject to vilification, claims of racism and/or antisemitism as is now the case. Don’t forget Prof. Cole that the illegal Israeli squatters on Palestinian are their only because of Israeli policy and tacit US support.

      • Just because the US uses them in that way does not mean they must be used in that way. Surely the objective of BDS with respect to Israel, as it was with South Africa, should have been to end objectionable practices, not to stop talking. But it seems a moot point now.

      • Professor: Boycott, is one of the forms of non-violent, silent speech, Gandhi style, available to the underdog.

  10. If Cuomo gets away with this abuse of power, will a President Hillary turn the screws on the BDS movement at the national level on behalf of her friend, Netanyahu, and as a token of appreciation to her pro-Israel campaign donors?

  11. The “new McCarthyism” is one way of describing the U.S. Empire’s (and its allies’) attempts to pacify its citizens: political dissidents, feminists, striking workers, whistleblowers, human and animal rights activists, antiwar protesters, etc.

    It is only one component of a larger “hybrid war” against the multitude, the Global North’s “war” against what is rapidly becoming a “planet of slums” ruled by garrison states: the U.S., EU, Israel and a host of “comprador elites” around the world.

    Neoliberal austerity programs are gradually being imposed on people around the world. Nothing less than full-spectrum dominance is the goal.

    Israel’s Occupied territories have been employed as a laboratory for the the American Empire’s global pacification industry for quite some time. Palestinians have been used as laboratory test animals since at least 1967, but the U.S. maintains over 1000 military bases in at least 74 countries at present, so the multitude would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to recognize the neoliberal Zionist elites in the U.S. and their allies as operating in a global battlespace employing propaganda, COMINT [communication intelligence], SIGINT [signal intelligence], ELINT [electronic intelligence], drones, nano-satellites, special forces teams, SWAT teams and a vast array of high-tech weaponry to enforce its neoliberal pacification program worldwide.

  12. Ka-Ching! Cuomo just nailed down all the money he will ever need for any political campaign he wants to run.
    Can’t wait to see what Hillary is going to do for Israel.

  13. And tomorrow, June 8th, just for the record, will be the 49th anniversary of the Israeli air and naval attack on the USS Liberty, a research and intelligence-gathering ship in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli plan was to sink the ship and kill all of its crew. The Johnson administration and top admirals went full speed ahead to cover up this crime for Israel.

    “Still Waiting for USS Liberty’s Truth: Exclusive: During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli warplanes and warships tried to sink the USS Liberty, killing 34 of the spy ship’s crew. Afterwards, U.S. and Israeli officials excused the attack as an unfortunate mistake and covered up evidence of willful murder,” as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains. – link to

  14. Is there a Zionist blacklist to deny BDS supporters jobs? Solid proof of discrimination of hiring based on politics would be interesting to say the least.

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