Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered agencies under his control on Sunday to divest themselves of companies and organizations aligned with a Palestinian-backed boycott movement against Israel.
Wading into a delicate international issue, Mr. Cuomo set executive-branch and other state entities in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or B.D.S., which has grown in popularity in some quarters of the United States and elsewhere, alarming Jewish leaders who fear its toll on Israel’s international image and economy.
Mr. Cuomo made his announcement in a speech at the Harvard Club in Manhattan to an audience including local Jewish leaders and lawmakers, describing the B.D.S. movement as an “economic attack” on Israel.
“We cannot allow that to happen,” the governor said, adding that, “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.”
Alphonso David, the counsel to the governor, said that the executive order was specifically aimed at the B.D.S. movement launched in 2005, but that it would apply to any boycott targeting Israel.
Several states have moved to support Israel and prevent their governments and agencies from doing business with companies or individuals that endorse the boycotts. Similar bills have been introduced in both houses of the New York Legislature, and a Republican-sponsored bill passed the State Senate, which the party leads, in January.
But on Sunday, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, flexed his executive power — a more familiar demonstration in the governor’s second term — joking that passing legislation can “often be a tedious affair,” and saying instead he wanted “immediate action” on B.D.S., while challenging other governors to do the same.
According to the executive order, Mr. Cuomo will command the commissioner of the Office of General Services to devise a list over the next six months of businesses and groups engaged in any “boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary.”
The list will be compiled from “credible information available to the public,” according to the order, and subject to appeal by the companies and entities included on it. Once the designation process is completed, however, all executive-branch agencies and departments — which make up a large portion of state government — as well as public boards, authorities, commissions and all public-benefit corporations will be required to divest themselves of any company on the list.
Mr. Cuomo’s signed the executive order just before he marched in the Celebrate Israel parade in New York.
With the largest population of Jewish residents outside Israel, New York has outsize symbolic, and political, value in the debate over the Middle East. For his part, Mr. Cuomo has shown increased willingness in recent years to get involved in international issues, including a short trip to Israel in 2014 with a state delegation.
The B.D.S. movement, started in 2005, has become a contentious issue on some American college campuses and beyond. Supporters say the campaign aims to pressure Israel economically over its treatment of Palestinians and to further Palestinian independence. Opponents say the efforts are a thinly disguised, anti-Semitic attempt to deeply hurt or even destroy Israel.
Omar Barghouti, a founder of the movement, said he did not find the actions by states like New York surprising, calling such proposals part of Israel’s “legal warfare against B.D.S.”
“Having lost many battles for hearts and minds at the grass-roots level, Israel has adopted since 2014 a new strategy to criminalize support for B.D.S. from the top,” he said in an email, adding that such actions were meant to “shield Israel from accountability.”
Mr. Barghouti added that Israel was supporting efforts by states to try to “delegitimize the boycott, a time-honored tactic of resisting injustice in the U.S. and a form of protected speech.”
Mr. David said in an interview that the executive action was meant to send a clear message that “the B.D.S. movement is deplorable.” He added that the governor’s order was not meant to be interpreted as “opining on actions taken to empower Palestinians,” or meant to discourage debate over Israeli actions in the Middle East. Rather, it intends to stake a position on a movement that “the State of New York unequivocally rejects,” as the order puts it.
“It’s one thing to say I want to engage in political speech,” Mr. David said. “It’s another thing to say I’m going to sanction you or penalize you for engaging in commercial activity.”
He added that although he did not know how many companies that do business with the state had endorsed or engaged in the B.D.S. movement, “we anticipate it’s going to be quite significant.”
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