With seven days left until the end of the legislative session, state lawmakers are considering a last-minute piece of legislation that would prohibit New York-based not-for-profits from helping to finance Israel-backed settlements in Judea and Samaria (“West Bank”). The measure is sponsored by five Democrats who also align themselves with the Democratic Socialists of America.

“I believe the attorney general has the jurisdiction now to pursue measures of accountability with regards to these organizations. The likelihood of that is minimal and I think that’s why there is the necessity for this legislation,” Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani (D – Astoria, Queens) told The Jewish Press. “I’m under no illusion about the long journey that this legislation has to travel on. I do believe it is a critical first step to even inform New Yorkers.”


The measure is entitled the “Not on our dime!: Ending New York funding of Israeli settler violence act” to prohibit not-for-profit corporations from engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.

Mamdani’s Democrat and Republican colleagues each issued letters opposing the measure, although the support for the opposing letter was softer from Assembly Democrats than Republicans, especially among the Jewish Democratic members.

Assembly Republicans, of which all 48 members signed, including five Jewish GOP lawmakers and five non-Jewish members who represent large Jewish populations, said they were “appalled” that this legislation was “vigorously pushed forward” and that this bill was an “utterly vicious and anti-Semitic measure. This bill seeks to penalize non-profit entities that have any affiliation with the state of Israel and is effectively an attack on Jews and Israel. As Americans, we find this bill to be not only discriminatory but also deeply anti-Semitic. Our colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference share these concerns. It is clear that these legislators are using this bill as nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize and denigrate Israel and its right to self-determination.”

One of those legislators who signed the Republican letter said he couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“When I read the actual legislation, I thought it was so ridiculous at first. I said you have to be kidding. I thought it was possibly a prank or a joke but after finding out that it was real – maybe it’s a desperate plea for attention, saying hey, look at me, I don’t know why. To me this is just an unfortunate cry for attention,” Assemblyman Sam Pirozzolo (R – Castleton Corners, Staten Island) told The Jewish Press. “He had to know that there would be backlash over this sort of thing. I just don’t understand why anyone would be willing to put that out and send it to Jewish members of his conference. It’s an attempt at bullying. It’s an attack. It’s outright in your face. ‘Look what I can do.’”

In a separate letter, Assembly Democrats wrote about the legislation, “Its purpose is to attack Jewish organizations that have wide-ranging missions from feeding the poor to providing emergency medical care for victims of terrorism to clothing orphans. This bill targets them all. In response, we say, ‘Not on our watch!’ This bill is a ploy to demonize Jewish charities with connections to Israel. It was only introduced to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and further sow divisions within the Democratic Party.”

Out of 102 Democratic members, only 24 signed the letter; 12 Jewish members signed the letter; five did not; and seven non-Jewish members representing large Jewish constituents signed the letter.

Regarding the legislation in question, Mamdani signed on to sponsor the measure after a recent meeting with pro-Palestinian groups.

“The Not on Our Dime Act only addresses charities that are found guilty of funding violations of the Geneva Convention. Characterizing an effort to bring New York in line with longstanding U.S. foreign policy as purely being motivated by a desire to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and sow division in the Democratic Party is not only disingenuous, it reveals how little regard there is for international law when it comes to Palestinians,” Mamdani wrote. “Organizations, including Jewish organizations that feed the poor, provide emergency medical care and clothe orphans take up noble causes for which New York state should provide the benefits of charitable status. This is why the bill does not apply to such groups. The rhetorical tactics employed by this letter to suggest otherwise is an attempt to avoid the issue at hand: settlements.”

Mamdani, 31, a native of Kampala, Uganda, not only wrote about who should be given charitable status when it comes to Israel but who should not be given such authority.

“This legislation will only impact organizations found to be supporting activities in violation of international law, such as aiding and abetting the demolition and arson of Palestinian schools, homes and agricultural land,” Mamdani wrote. “Funding colonialism and violence is not a charitable activity and I look forward to working with my colleagues in our fight to make that explicit in New York state law.”

In the conversation Mamdani had with The Jewish Press, he explained the genesis of the legislation.

“After being approached by a number of organizations which now make up the Not on Our Dime Coalition, those groups include Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Adalah Justice Project,” Mamdani said. “They presented us with evidence of the fact that there were a number of charities registered as such in New York state that were sending at least $60 million a year to settler organizations whose activities were in violation of the Geneva Convention and our countries’ stated policies regarding settlements. There had been an attempt to have action be taken on these charities given the fact that the attorney general has a broad scope for pursuing action against charities that have been found to be committing “wrongdoing.” One of the issues that has been raised was the fact that this was not explicitly defined as such in New York state law.”

The letter from the Assembly Republicans was spearheaded by Assemblyman Ari Brown (R – Cedarhurst, Nassau County).

“As Americans, we believe in supporting our allies, and Israel is our most important ally in the region. Israel shares our American values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The proposed bill not only hurts Israel but also damages this vital and strategic relationship. It sends a clear message that New York state is not a friendly place for Israel or for those who offer her support,” the letter concluded. “This Assembly bill goes against the very principles of democracy and sets a dangerous precedent for others to follow. We strongly oppose this bill and urge our fellow elected officials to publicly denounce this proposal and do everything in their power to prevent this and similar legislation from becoming law.”

Assembly members who support the legislation include Sarahana Shrestha (D – Esopus, Ulster County), 42, a native of Kathmandu, Nepal; Phara Souffrant Forrest (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn), 34, a Haitian immigrant; and Marcela Mitaynes (D – Sunset Park, Brooklyn), 49, a native of Peru. In the Senate, the sponsor is Jabari Brisport (D – Crown Heights / Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn), 35, a Caribbean-American; the bill was cosponsored by Kristen Gonzalez (D – Long Island City, Queens), 27, of Puerto Rican descent. All five members align themselves with the Democratic Socialists of America.

Mamdani said, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I wouldn’t say that is the limitation that you must be a member [of the DSA] in order to support this legislation or anything of that kind. I think it speaks to the fact that the organization has for many years made it clear that it stands in support of Palestinian human rights and so I think that this legislation is in line with the values that have been stated time and again by the Democratic Socialists of America.”

Pirozzolo said he thinks if this type of legislation continues, the Democratic Party will rip themselves apart from the inside out.

“The Democrat Party is being torn apart from the inside and it’s the DSAs against everybody else. The DSA is going after people constantly, one by one, more power, more power. The Democratic Party is being destroyed by themselves because they don’t work,” Pirozzolo concluded.

There was some mild pushback from Mamdani’s constituents. On Mamdani’s Facebook page, there were 37 positive messages and two negative ones.

“You came from Uganda to spread your anti-Jewish hatred. We don’t need you here,” wrote Kevin Sean Donohue. Another voter expressed her dismay, “You have established yourself as a Jew hater. Congrats. Your family must be so proud,” wrote Alice Lemos wrote. Many positive comments included congratulations and much success in representing our values.

The legislation is in the Assembly Corporations, Authorities and Commissions committee chaired by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D – Clarkstown, Rockland County), who labels himself as a reform-minded legislator. Zebrowski did not sign the letter in opposition put forth by the Assembly Democrats. Only ten of the 26 members on the committee signed the letter.


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].