update deskBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Hochul, SUNY system threaten legal action against anti-Israel group

An organization spewing antisemitic rhetoric was told to stop all further use of the name and trademarks associated with the State University of New York.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

It took a media inquiry to the New York governor’s office for a BDS group to be condemned and threatened with legal action by a state university.

“SUNY BDS” sprung up about a month ago, purporting to represent all 64 State University of New York branches in a hateful campaign against Israel. The BDS movement calls for the boycott and divestment from and sanctions on Israel.

Unauthorized by any campus or state system entity, the group has been using the SUNY name and other trademarks without permission.

It bills itself as “SUNY students, staff, faculty and alumni working to make New York State divest from Israeli apartheid.” It describes Israel as a “murderous settler colonial and genocidal state project.”

Like many anti-Israel organizations, SUNY BDS puts the word “Israel” in quotes, signaling it doesn’t recognize the existence of the Jewish state.

The group accused New York Gov. Kathy Hochul of illegally attempting to block the virulently antisemitic Students for Justice in Palestine organization from opening a campus chapter. SJP has been suspended by Columbia University and other institutions for the use of anti-Jewish rhetoric, threats and intimidation.

SUNY BDS also alleges ties between SUNY and Israel through university partnerships, including to “the weapons manufacturers supporting Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.”

Evidence for such claims is unclear.

After an inquiry from the New York Post, Hochul’s office issued a statement denouncing the group’s activity and messaging.

“To be clear, both Governor Hochul and the SUNY System do not endorse this group or their mission,” wrote a representative for Hochul, noting that she has “repeatedly condemned all forms of antisemitism and has taken significant steps to keep our students safe, including launching a nation-leading initiative to combat hate crimes, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to protect schools, places of worship and community centers and advancing a comprehensive plan to eradicate hate and bias at public colleges in New York.”

‘Using intellectual property’

Hochul, who made a solidarity trip to Israel in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, has come under fire in recent days after stating that “there would be no more Canada” if that country perpetrated a massacre against the United States on the level of Hamas’s, signaling support for Israel’s military operations against Hamas in Gaza.

Additionally, SUNY sent a cease-and-desist letter to SUNY BDS, warning it against “using intellectual property” of the state university system.

“It has come to our attention that your unincorporated organization, SUNY BDS, uses images and other written references that utilize one or more SUNY trademarks,” wrote Kapil Longani, senior vice chancellor for legal affairs and general counsel.

SUNY made it clear that the group must “cease and desist from all further use of the SUNY name, the SUNY trademarks and any other designations likely to cause confusion with same.”

The letter further cautioned that SUNY “takes an aggressive position against infringement of its intellectual property.”

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