Cuomo’s Battle Lines

New York governor Andrew Cuomo's war against BDS is an effort to isolate and suppress the Democratic Party’s left-wing critics.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to end state business with any group that boycotts Israel stinks to high heaven for a few reasons.

There are the constitutional problems: as Palestine Legal said, “It is unprecedented for a state to create a list of entities that support or engage in a First Amendment protected political activity, and deny them financial benefits because of it.” The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, in response to a similar proposal in California, argued that “politically motivated boycotts are protected expression under the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

There is Cuomo’s hypocrisy: he is protesting boycotts and divestment with a different set of boycotts and divestment. And while condemning political action against a foreign military occupation, he ordered a halt to all non-essential state government travel to North Carolina because of its anti-transgender bathroom mandate.

There is the cynical logic of BDS’s right-wing opponents, who, when they couldn’t get a bill to silence BDS through the legislature, had to get it implemented by executive mandate instead.

But beyond all this, Cuomo’s move against BDS dramatizes the growing split within the Democratic Party.

Cuomo is likely betting that such a bold move will edge out chatter on the corruption surrounding his office, sharpen his lackluster record, and raise his profile in national Democratic politics.

Cuomo, after all, has indicated that he has his sights set on the White House in 2020 if a Democrat doesn’t get elected in 2016. But his plans seem overly optimistic.

He has lukewarm favorability — a recent poll said that voters are unlikely to reelect him. He already had to fight hard for his 2014 reelection, fending off a spirited primary challenge from anti-corruption activist Zephyr Teachout and then an emboldened Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins.

At present, the governor’s most notable achievements are letting a feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put the city’s enormous public university system in jeopardy and aggressively seeking concessions from public-sector unions, especially the teachers.

His more celebrated moves, like giving up his pro-fracking agenda or mandating a $15 minimum wage, are really victories for movement activists and not evidence of his deeply held political convictions.

In this light, Cuomo is exactly the kind of neoliberal Democrat that Bernie Sanders supporters have been rebelling against, except with none of the Clintons’ charisma or savvy.

Cuomo might believe his maneuvering will make him a hero among those moderate liberals who are repelled by the new left-wing pressure on the Democratic Party. That pressure has grown with the Sanders campaign’s primary success, its battles with the DNC, and the entrance of the implacable “Bernie or Bust” movement.

Sanders supporters’ antagonism to corporate interests; their championing of unions, free college, and an expanded welfare state; and their ideological independence are fundamentally destabilizing to the Third Way liberalism that rules the party.

And crucially, young voters’ progressive politics are not limited to domestic economic affairs. The graying Zionist establishment has something to worry about, too; during the last assault on Gaza, research from both Pew and Gallup found support for Israel among younger Americans is on the decline.

This lines up with Bernie Sanders’s criticisms of the Democratic Party’s Middle East policy stance, which thanks to his picks for the party platform committee, now must include the interests and the views of Palestinians. What’s a conservative Democrat governor with national ambition to do?

Here he comes, the poster child for the old model, using a hot-button topic like BDS to generate press about anything besides his legal woes. (The Daily News, in fact, has cited inside sources claiming that the Cuomo administration has made it a top priority to hype up anything and everything that could distract from the federal investigation.)

It could be all written off as another cynical ploy in the dirty game of New York state politics and intra-party feuding. That is, if the Democratic Party’s aggressive foreign policy didn’t have such grave consequences for those living under Israeli occupation.