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Alex Kane and Mari Cohen | May 31, 2023

ON MAY 17TH, New York State Democratic Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani introduced legislation that would prevent US charities registered in the state from sending funds to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The “Not on our dime!: Ending New York funding of Israeli settler violence” act, which has the backing of a number of progressive groups, would give the attorney general the authority to stop groups that fund settlements from registering as charities and deny them tax-exempt status. If an existing charity already funds settlements, the attorney general would have the power to dissolve it and sue for at least $1 million in damages. Private individuals impacted by settlement-funding groups—such as Palestinians being displaced by an organization funded by a New York charity—would also be able to sue for damages and seek a court order to shut them down.

Mamdani’s effort appears to align with longstanding party priorities. Democratic leaders have consistently opposed Israeli settlements because they make a two-state solution, the Democrats’ stated goal, all but impossible to achieve by slicing Palestinian territory in the West Bank into non-contiguous areas. State Department officials in the Obama administration said that the problem was worsened by US-based nonprofits that fund Israeli settlements. In 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US would ban its citizens from funding settlements if Israel did not take steps to end the occupation. (Ultimately, Clinton did not follow through on the threat.) More recently, seven progressive members of Congress urged the Treasury Department to investigate US organizations funding Israeli settlements and possibly revoke their tax-exempt status.

The “Not on our dime” bill builds on—and puts legal weight behind—Democrats’ continued opposition to settlements. But New York Democrats have vocally opposed it. About a week after the bill was introduced, 66 Democratic assemblymembers (the majority of the body) signed a letter that denounced the bill as “a ploy to demonize Jewish charities with connections to Israel” and “antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers.” The letter’s signatories included not just mainstream Democrats but also a number of progressive legislators who typically hew to the party’s left on issues such as police brutality and labor rights. Twenty-seven of the signatories were recently endorsed for office by the Working Families Party (WFP), a progressive electoral group that emphasizes economic and social justice. Two signatories—Harvey Epstein, who represents parts of the east side of Manhattan, and Linda Rosenthal, who represents parts of the Upper West Side and central Manhattan—oppose the “Not on our dime” bill even though they were endorsed by The Jewish Vote, the electoral arm of the New York City-based progressive group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), which has backed the bill. (Neither Epstein nor Rosenthal responded to multiple requests for comment.) Two additional WFP-backed legislators—Alex Bores and Amanda Septimo, the latter of whom was also supported by The Jewish Vote—released separate statements opposing the “Not on our dime” bill even though they did not sign their fellow assemblymembers’ letter.


For some groups that oppose the occupation, the “Not on our dime” bill marks an exciting opportunity to break with New York’s history of pro-Israel policy and practice Palestine advocacy on a local level. “This is the first piece of legislation in Albany that actually tackles the question of how Palestine shows up as a local issue in New York,” said Audrey Sasson, executive director of JFREJ. But progressive lawmakers’ opposition to the bill highlights the challenges of doing pro-Palestine electoral advocacy. When asked how the group would handle the fact that some of its Jewish Vote endorsees opposed the bill, communications director Sophie Ellman-Golan said that JFREJ will continue supporting the bill while working closely with some of the bill’s opponents on other issues like fair pay for home health care workers. “We’re proud to work with them on the essential issue of the home care crisis,” she said, “and we are proud to support Zohran [Mamdani]’s bill.”

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