NY State Arts Organizations Urge the Repeal of Anti-BDS Executive Order 157

Original online here and here.



As arts organizations based in New York state, we urge the repeal of Executive Order 157, which has been condemned by prominent legal organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal as an unconstitutional attack on the freedom of speech and as “21st-century McCarthyism.” It aims to create a discriminatory “blacklist” of institutions that advocate for Palestinian human rights by endorsing boycotts like those organized against Apartheid in South Africa in the past.

Executive Order 157 targets institutions that “participate in” in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a nonviolent, anti-racist movement that calls for Palestinian freedom, justice, and equality. Modeled after the South African Anti-Apartheid boycott movement, BDS calls for ending international state, corporate, and institutional complicity with Israel until it complies with international law. This includes ending: 

Within the US context, BDS is part of a long line of political boycotts that fall under constitutionally protected speech, association, and assembly, and have demanded change towards social justice. 

The Executive Order directs New York’s Commissioner of the Office of General Services to compile a list of institutions and companies that “participate in boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary.” Participation is broadly defined to include those who “engage in any activity, or promote others to engage in any activity, that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with Israel or persons doing business in Israel for purposes of coercing political action by, or imposing policy positions on, the government of Israel.” All state agencies, departments and public authorities are then instructed “to divest their money and assets from any investment in any institution or company” that cannot prove, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner, that it should not be on the list.

The text implies a focus on corporations rather than nonprofit organizations, naming investments rather than grants, and the resulting blacklist has not expanded beyond eleven foreign corporations. Still, the language is alarmingly vague and raises concern for organizations receiving or seeking state funding. 

At the order’s inception in 2016, many expressed opposition based on academic freedom, First Amendment Rights, and solidarity with the Palestinian people. Progressive Jewish groups supporting BDS have also condemned it.

While this law has not been broadly applied, as long as it remains on our books, it maintains a chilling effect on the field of arts and culture. Especially as we witness the climbing death toll in Gaza of over 40 thousand, many artists and administrators are considering how we can show solidarity with the people of Palestine and address the complicity of the US government and American institutions and corporations. However, as organizational leaders face a tenuous funding landscape and the increasing suppression of pro-Palestinian activism nationwide, they fear even the hypothetical threat this law poses. Genuine dialogue between artists, workers, and organizations about the role of art in activism and organizational ethics is cut short by the presentation of an unconstitutional legal threat. While we may hold a diversity of opinions on BDS, we can agree that laws targeting it endanger all of our political freedom. 

The New York arts community’s legacy as part of social and political movements—many which stretched across national borders—is particularly rich and vibrant. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement, and activism surrounding the HIV/AIDs epidemic, artists in our state have been part of both symbolic and material solidarity and advocacy actions that are now inseparable from our understanding of cultural history. 

To allow for the continuation of this legacy; to allow for political and moral expression to be authentically shaped by local artists and organizations rather than state mandate; to stop the shift toward McCarthyite repression tactics that stifle intellectualism, creativity, and principled dissent: we demand the immediate overturn of Executive Order 157.

Sincerely, the undersigned:

Initiating Group

Artists Against Apartheid

Dancers for Palestine

Theater Workers for a Ceasefire

Cosigning Organizations

Writers Against the War on Gaza

Art Against Displacement



Theatre of the Oppressed NYC

Gotham Dance Theater

Core Culture Pilates


The Woods Rehearsal and Performance Space



*Note: this letter is specifically for organizations, but both individuals and organizations can help promote the campaign in their networks and with our social media kit 

Contact Repeal157@gmail.com

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