WFS Panel Discussion 7/22/16

Part 1 Alan Levine

Part 2: Donna Nevel

Part 3: Questions and Answers

Point of View: Jay Wenk Woodstock Times

Freedom of Speech is not a given in this land; it has been under attack many times. The importation of books of “questionable virtue”, the censoring of movies, the Palmer raids and McCarthy’s war on lefties are just a few examples. I have been arrested several times for peacefully protesting wars in front of the White House, in New York City, and in Selma Alabama for supporting Black civil rights.

What does “free speech” mean to you? Does it include the ranting of a candidate for elective office? How about the Nazi rally in Skokie. Ill.? Or your neighbor’s complaints about the height of your fence? Clearly, any of these examples could test your patience, but we understand that free speech cannot be limited to what we personally support, even if we would like that to be the way it is. It is there for all to use. This may be very difficult to accept, but that’s what freedom of speech means.


The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, doesn’t agree with our national and statewide policy. He has decided that those companies who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions toward the State of Israel until that government ends its occupation of Palestinian lands will be cut off from State work and jobs. This is the same Governor who recently instituted a boycott of the State of South Carolina. Boycotts are integral to Democracy, starting with the Stamp Act and the original Tea Party in Boston, including striking workers picket lines, the boycott of California grapes, Montgomery city buses and the South African Government, to name a few.


I believe that Woodstockers agree that denying free speech is unacceptable, whether we support BDS or not. I believe that we want to send that message to the Governor. I am sure that Woodstock’s Town Board supports the concept of free speech regardless of the specific issue. There is an on-line petition to our Town Board asking them to do that, where folks can read the petition and sign on. Go to:


Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes’ words are crucial to our understanding of the concept of free speech and the tolerance necessary for its implementation; ”Our institutions were not devised to bring about uniformity of opinion.”


Don’t let the Governor get away with his attempt to deny our historical values in order to gain re-election votes! Take this opportunity to stand up for the values we want to live by; read the petition and sign it!


Jay Wenk, Woodstock, 679-6970


The most insidious danger

The most insidious danger to our American democracy is not Al Qaeda or Isis. It is not the Islamic radicalism that we fostered, armed and funded for our own purposes in the Middle East.


It is not even the criminal corporations, like Exxon, Lockheed Martin or Monsanto, that would fry the world with global warming, bomb it into oblivion and then poison it all with Roundup. They have learned to game the system with their millions, of course, turning our government into a cesspool of corrupted public officials all hiding behind the same two party fig leaf.  


No, the most dangerous force is the Israel Lobby, whose actions threaten our very Constitution and First Amendment rights. Has Monsanto ever attempted to criminalize citizens' attempts to boycott their poisonous products? Has Exxon paid our state government to create blacklists of campus groups educating students about climate change? Only the Israel Lobby can do that.


Over 500 Palestinian children were recently incinerated by high tech lasers and white phosphorus bombs while cowering in UN schools. But our Congress, paid sycophants to the Lobby, voted that Israel had a right to "defend itself" by destroying Gaza's only power plant as well as 18,000 of its homes. Israel lost just one house.


Israel and billionaire Sheldon Adelson have paid 100 million to destroy our First Amendment rights. And Governor Cuomo, never one to put principle ahead of cash, has just declared the boycotting of Israeli apartheid to be unlawful. The selling out of our democracy.



Fred Nagel

Rhinebeck, NY 12572


Free Speech Petition

Free Speech

Our First Amendment rights are under attack. On June 5th Governor Cuomo signed executive order #157 that divests New York State funds from any companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel. It also creates a blacklist of those companies that is public and that will take input from the general public. And Governor Cuomo had the temerity to say that "we'll boycott those who boycott."

The Supreme Court in its 1982 NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware Co decision recognized boycotts as a First Amendment form of protected free speech. This means it is wrong for New York State to penalize those who engage in constitutionally protected free speech, whether Governor Cuomo agrees with their points of view or not. And having New York State assess our political motivations and then create a database of those it disagrees with is a serious threat to our civil liberties.

Boycotts have long been recognized as a legitimate and non-violent method of trying to change behavior. History is replete with examples: from our forefathers refusal to pay taxes to the British without representation, to Ghandi's Salt Strike, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to the boycotting of South Africa, to today's boycotting of North Carolina for its discrimination against the Transgender community.

In reaction to Governor Cuomo's boycott ban, I and other Woodstock citizens are organizing a campaign to have the Woodstock Town Board pass a resolution that reaffirms our rights to free speech and our rights to boycott. It is important for individuals and communities to defend their basic human rights when they are under attack. We are planning a series of informational sessions and a petition campaign as a show of community involvement in a lead up to the introduction of the resolution for a town board vote.

If you believe in free speech, please sign our online petition and follow our progress at Please inform your friends and neighbors and ask them to join us.

Nic Abramson
Shady, NY

McCarthyism is wrong

McCarthyism is wrong

Whatever your views on Israel/Palestine . . . , McCarthyism is wrong                                                                      
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 157, which he signed on Sunday, June 5, should be of concern to each and every one of us. This executive order threatens the rights of Americans to take collective action to address injustice by using boycott as a form of free expression and as a powerful means of protest. Furthermore, the creation of the related discriminatory “blacklist,” which the New York Office of General Services will post on its website and update semi-annually, is blatantly dangerous.
Thankfully, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects our right to free speech. This means we are allowed to express, be exposed to, and receive a wide range of facts, opinions, and viewpoints – even when the ideas are unpopular.  Under this umbrella of free speech, Americans have the right to boycott, and we have a long history of using boycott as a tactic to achieve justice.  Let’s remember that before the American Revolution, colonists boycotted British goods (think, “no taxation without representation”?) and that, since then, American citizens (and corporations) involved in social justice movements have used boycotts for issues ranging from Animal Rights, Testing, and Welfare; to Civil Rights; to Environmental Health/Integrity; to Human Rights; to LGBTQ Discrimination; to Labor and Worker Rights; to . . .   
We can look back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights era to fight segregated buses; to Cesar Chavez’s boycott of grapes to fight the toxic spraying of insecticides; to the boycott of South Africa to end apartheid; to the more recent fast-food worker boycotts to raise the minimum wage; and to peoples/corporations current refusal to do business with North Carolina for its recent banning of local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and its requirement that transgender people use public bathrooms that match their birth certificates. The list goes on.
However, Governor Cuomo’s shameful signing of Executive Order No. 157 against institutions and companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), an international, grassroots, nonviolent movement to gain freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians, goes against this history. Perhaps the only good news here is that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution still guarantees our right to advocate for change, to organize against injustice, to engage in boycotts, and, yes, to advocate for BDS. 
To learn more, go to
The #RightToBoycott is a constitutionally protected form of political free speech. 
We will not be silent.

Helaine Meisler


In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights


As veterans and as members of Veterans For Peace, we have not forgotten our oath to protect the Constitution, but even if we were not  veterans, there are fundamental rights that any citizen would not want to see violated. The First Amendment comes to mind.
In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order that would create a blacklist of groups, institutions, and businesses that support or advocate a boycott of Israel. It would also withdraw State funds from any organization or institution that in any way supports or endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as a tool in the struggle against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.
The BDS movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, is now a global campaign using nonviolent means to place economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law; end the occupation of Palestinian land, including Gaza; grant full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
For almost 70 years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.
The right to express solidarity and join the BDS movement is a fundamental right of all people. It is also a clear expression of the First Amendment.  All veterans took an oath to defend the Constitution and to stand for the right of free speech, and many died thinking they were protecting those rights for all people.
It is worth noting that the New York State legislature failed to pass similar legislation making it illegal to advocate BDS largely because of obvious questions about its constitutionality.
Unfortunately Gov. Cuomo has surrendered to pressure from the powerful Israeli lobby and is disregarding both the U.S. Constitution and the illegality of the Israeli occupation.
In a classic example of hypocrisy and doublespeak, turning a blind eye toward blatant Israeli discrimination against the Palestinian people, Gov. Cuomo stated that “this state will not stand for the politics of discrimination in any form . . . and will do everything in its power to end the hateful, intolerant campaign.”
How different from the great South African civil rights advocate, Desmond Tutu, who said, "I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces . . . Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government."
Bishop Tutu early on declared his full support for the use of boycotts and economic sanctions as a nonviolent means to compel Israel to alter its policies, noting their effectiveness in the successful struggle against South African apartheid. Veterans For Peace fully supports peoples right to free speech and also stands with Desmond Tutu and many other human rights advocates who support the international BDS campaign.  
Tarak Kauff
Veterans For Peace
Board of Directors
Managing Editor
Peace In Our Times

Governor Cuomo embarrasses and discredits himself

September 21, 2016

Helaine Meisler

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 845-679-5301 (H); 914-466-0100 (C)

Woodstock Town Board Adopts Resolution Questioning the Constitutionality of New York
Governor’s Executive Order on BDS

Board Votes to Support Free Speech & the Right to Boycott
Yesterday evening, the Woodstock Town Board voted unanimously (4-0) to adopt a first-of- its-kind resolution in New York State that questions the Constitutionality of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 157 (EO 157).

Widely criticized by human rights organizations, civil rights attorneys, and community groups, EO 157 mandates New York State to create a blacklist of institutions abiding by boycott or divestment campaigns related to Israeli human rights abuses, and further requires State agencies to divest themselves from such entities.

The newly passed Town Board resolution requires Governor Cuomo to submit the “legal basis or judicial opinion upon which he finds his action to be constitutional” by December 5, 2016. Further stating that “in the absence of a timely, cogent, and acceptable legal and judicial opinion in support of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 157," the Town Board will "stand in opposition to Executive Order 157 and request that it be rescinded” in addition to encouraging any entity impacted by it to contest in a court of law.

"Boycotts against injustices are deeply rooted in U.S. history and are a form of collective protest that enjoy full protection under the First Amendment. Penalizing advocates of any such boycott – whether of Israel, North Carolina, grapes, or lettuce – is a flat-out violation of the Constitution,” said Alan Levine, a prominent First Amendment attorney who worked closely on drafting the resolution. ”By passing this resolution, Woodstock Town Board has set an admirable example to other communities, and a clear message to the Governor that we not stay silent when we are being denied our rights.”

“The Woodstock Town Board has taken a commendable stance on free speech and boycott rights with this resolution,” said Alan Sussman, a Woodstock resident and First Amendment rights attorney. “As Americans we have an obligation, in part stemming from our fierce tradition of freedom, and in greater part by our love of democracy and fairness, to object to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order.”

Woodstock Free Speech is a group of concerned citizens in the Town of Woodstock, NY who are working to educate others about their inalienable right to self-determination and all of the freedoms, liberties, rights and responsibilities that are espoused in the Bill of Rights and successive amendments to the Constitution.

Governor Cuomo would stoop so low


To the Editor:

Sadly, Governor Cuomo’s recent Executive Order punishing BDS supporters shows that he is more interested in pandering to a small segment of his constituency rather than supporting honest, open, and free political speech. Boycotts have always been a powerful vehicle for expressing political views and fostering change. Our nation has a long tradition of boycotts beginning with the boycott of British products which helped to spark the Revolutionary War which led to our independence. Recent boycotts have helped secure civil rights, labor rights, women's rights, and animal rights. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is a non-violent call to address the deprivation of Palestinian human rights. BDS calls for the end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land. BDS calls for equal treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians. Lastly, BDS calls for the return of land, farms, and homes which were stolen from Palestinians. In recent years BDS has gained momentum and hopefully this peaceful movement will result in changes to Israel's apartheid policies. Governor Cuomo’s wrongheaded attempt at curtailing our First Amendment right of free speech (which includes the blacklisting of boycotters) is not only disgraceful and unconstitutional, it is downright embarrassing. I wonder if this shameless and illegal behavior by an elected official is grounds for impeachment? In a state with such rampant corruption among elected officials perhaps it is not so surprising that Governor Cuomo would stoop so low. Hopefully, the Governor will see the error in his ways and rescind the order.

Eli Kassirer New Paltz, NY

Forgetting the Liberty



Gov. Cuomo — forgetting the Liberty

Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from  a boycott movement.
Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from a boycott movement.
Today is June 8, the 49th anniversary of an event that has been all but erased from the national memory, that is, the attack on the American naval vessel the USS Liberty by our great partner in peace and democracy, Israel, killing 34 American servicemen and wounding 171. It’s an occasion that this year has been marked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — accidentally, and incongruously — with an executive order requiring New York State agencies to divest from any companies that participate in the growing boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, we’ll boycott you,” the governor declared at a signing ceremony on Sunday, which was Celebrate Israel Day, before marching in the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The governor thus put himself at the service of Israel’s international campaign to quash the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement, known as BDS, that was launched in 2005 by leaders of Palestinian civic organizations and that has been growing ever since. Quash it Israel must, if it is not to go the way of South Africa and transform itself from an ethnically exclusivist state to a state of equal rights for all. A boycott, after all, was a major factor in South Africa’s makeover.
Israel has committed $26 million to the anti-BDS effort, and American Jewish potentates led by Sheldon Adelson have committed another $50 million. The effort involves getting institutions of higher learning, like the University of California, to link criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and pressuring state legislatures, like New York’s, to pass laws punishing organizations that participate in BDS. The New York State Senate graciously obliged, but the bill it passed is hung up in the Assembly, so Gov. Cuomo boldly acted on his own, explaining that legislation “can often be a tedious affair.”
Now the state Office of General Services will be required to draw up a blacklist of companies and organizations that participate in the boycott of the Jewish State, and state agencies will have to pull out any money they have invested in those companies. The practical effect might not be great: How many companies boycott Israel? Probably not many. Boycotters tend to be religious, labor and academic organizations. But the politics for Cuomo is irresistible, meaning the play for the Jewish vote, to put it baldly, and the audience for his order-signing reflected that — a small sea of yarmulkes. The Jewish persons of my own acquaintance tend to be dismayed at Israel’s continuing military occupation of 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and blockading of 1.7 million more in Gaza, but the most prominent Jewish organizations, like the regional Jewish Federations and the Hillels, not to mention prominent donors and politicians, tend to be cheerleaders for Israel, and they are all in a lather about BDS, so the governor surely made the correct calculation.
I bet he didn’t give a moment’s thought to the USS Liberty. As far as that goes, I wouldn’t be surprised if he never heard of it.
The USS Liberty was a state-of-the art surveillance ship that the Navy parked off the coast of Israel, in international waters, during the Six Day War, in 1967, to monitor electronic communications as Israel flattened the Egyptian air force and prepared to storm the Golan Heights of Syria. It was clearly marked in large letters, fore and aft, and flew a 5-by-8-foot American flag.
The USS Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
The US Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
On June 8, at the height of hostilities and in clear weather, Israeli jets overflew the ship several times before attacking it with rocket fire and napalm. The aerial attack continued for half an hour, at the end of which Israeli gunboats came in for the kill, firing torpedoes as sailors attempted to lower lifeboats. American rescue aircraft were twice dispatched from Sixth Fleet carriers and twice were called back, leaving the Liberty to its fate. When the assault was over, Israel said, whoops, it was all a mistake, we thought the ship was Egyptian, and apologized. The U.S. accepted the apology along with $6 million in compensation plus a similar amount for the families of the dead and wounded, and that was the end of the matter. Gone and best not talked about.

Dean Rusk, secretary of state at the time, later wrote: “I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
George Ball, under-secretary of state, summed it up: “American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of its citizens.”
That was forty-nine years ago today, and if you see a mention of it in any newspaper or hear a mention of it on any television news show, please let me know. What we have instead is an executive order to punish anyone who dares not to do business with Israel, along with a promise by New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce comparable legislation on the national level.