Take Action: Oppose NY Assembly Bills to Limit Human Rights Advocacy

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Assembly bill A9036 would prohibit individuals, corporations, and nonprofits that “boycott” an “allied nation”  (or companies based in that country) from contracting with the state – so lots of NGOs would lose State funding.

But the craziest part of this legislation is the definition of “boycott” they are using. This legislation’s definition of boycotting would actually prohibit public education campaigns around human rights abuses perpetrated by allied countries or companies operating in those countries. This is the concerning passage:

“Boycott” shall mean to engage in any activity, or to promote  or encourage  others  to  engage  in  any activity, that will result in any person abstaining from commercial, social or political  relations,  with any allied nation, or companies based in an allied nation or in territories  controlled  by  an  allied  nation,  with  the intent to penalize, inflict, or cause harm to, or otherwise promote or cast disrepute  upon, such allied nation, its people or its commercial products.

Using the legislation’s definition of “allied state”, we could no longer call attention to child labor in Pakistan, Brazil or the Philippines. We could not talk about enforced disappearances in Mexico. We could not call attention to the lack of freedom of the press in Italy. Instead, organizations promoting these causes would be penalized – they would lose State funding and they would be on a public list. “Such list, when developed and published, shall be posted on the website of the Office of General Services.”

It has already passed the NY Senate – so we cannot let it pass the Assembly.

Senate Bill S6086 and Assembly Bill 8220 would create “a list of persons it determines boycotts Israel,” and defines boycotting Israel as “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the state of Israel or companies based in the state of Israel or in territories controlled by the state of Israel.” It would also prohibit State funding of any group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The damage of this sweeping legislation to civic engagement and freedom of expression would be huge:

  • NGOs and other organizations supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to protest Israel’s human rights abuses would be denied partnership by state agencies and would be ineligible for State funding.
  • Individuals identified by the State as supporting the BDS movement would be required to submit a written profession that they are not in fact boycotting Israel.
  • State pension funds could not be invested in companies that boycott/divest from Israel.

Under these bills, organizations defending human rights would be unconstitutionally penalized. The Supreme Court has long held that boycotts to bring about political, social, and economic change are protected under the First Amendment. In fact, our country has a proud history of protecting boycotts as a form of political speech – from pre-Civil War boycotts against slavery to the Montgomery bus boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement to the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Under this legislation, not only would human rights organizations become ineligible for State funding, they would be publicly blacklisted and, as we are already seeing, branded as anti-Semitic. This is dangerous libel, and ignores that involvement of several Jewish organizations in supporting the BDS movement. The New York state government centrally collecting and publishing a list of individuals and organizations covered in this legislation would irresponsibly spread this false libel, and would be an enormous and costly undertaking for the Government.



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Peace Action New York State Applauds Iran Agreement Success and Milestone Achievement For Diplomacy Over War

Iran has ripped out 2/3 of its centrifuges, shipped out 97% of its stockpile, & poured concrete into the plutonium reactor so it can no longer be used to make a bomb. Iran has completed the necessary steps of the Iran Nuclear Deal reached on July 14, 2005 to restrict its nuclear program, and international economic sanctions have been lifted. The agreement has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions against the country.


In response to Saturday’s announcement that all parties (The United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany — the P5 + 1), including Iran, have implemented their responsibilities under the Iran Nuclear Agreement, Jim Anderson, the President of Peace Action New York State, the state affiliate of Peace Action (the largest peace group in the U.S. founded on abolishing nuclear weapons), made the following statement:


“The U.S. utilizing diplomacy has accomplished a world impacting, negotiated agreement with Iran, reaping exceptional actions benefitting peace. The U.S. must also employ diplomacy as it confronts Syria, and other international concerns.”


“If we can build on the momentum of the diplomatic milestones met with Iran, it will give hope for peace to many people around the world.  It just proves that we must be persistent in our defense of diplomacy.”

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Tell President Obama: No More Nuclear Weapons

Kevin Martin, the Executive Director of Peace Action National, shared this Call to Action following the State of the Union address:

It appears President Obama forgot something.  In his State of the Union message last night he touched on the need to confront one of the great existential dangers of our time – climate change – but failed to even mention the other – the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Considering his past writings and speeches, President Obama has stated his concern about the multiple threats posed by nuclear weapons and he promised in his 2009 Prague speech to do something about it.

Ask President Obama in his final year as President, to turn the words of his 2009 Prague speech into action.  Urge him cancel plans to spend hundreds of billions to modernize our nuclear arsenal.  Canceling this nuclear weapons forever program would reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation and the likelihood of nuclear war –either accidential or intentional – with all its corresponding menace, radioactive contamination, nuclear winter, widespread devastation, starvation, and suffering.

Plans to modernize the US nuclear arsenal will likely cost upward of a trillion dollars, assuming future presidents follow through with the new bombers, submarines and land-based missiles, along with planned upgrades of eight factories and laboratories.

This danger is real. Plans for a new cruise missile, for example, at a cost of $30 billion, comes in nuclear and non-nuclear varieties, meaning a nation under attack won’t know what kind of warhead the missile is carrying which might lead to a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack.

I could spend all day writing about these costly, crazy plans and the danger they represent, but I need you instead to write President Obama right now, and tell him to fulfill his Prague promise and lead the world to a nuclear free future.  After you’re done you can google the term ‘accidental nuclear war’ and see for yourself.

Let this be the year the US cancels its nuclear weapons forever program.

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American Presidential Candidates are Hoping to Commit War Crimes

American presidential candidates are now openly promising to commit war crimes to “win” the war on Terror. It seems like they need an education in what a war crime is, why these crimes are illegal and why trading in their conscience for power makes these candidates the most serious threat to U.S. peace and security that we face today.

In an article published by The Nation on January 7th, Rebecca Gordon reports that leading GOP presidential candidates are making these promises:

ted-cruz-smarmyTed Cruz will “carpet bomb them [ISIS] into oblivion.” And, in a clear reference to the use of nuclear weapons, stated “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”




Ben_Carson_by_Gage_Skidmore_3Ben Carson said that “thousands” of children might die in a tough love campaign against ISIS. When asked if he was “tough” enough to be “okay” with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians, Carson replied, “you got it. You got it.”



jeb-bush-01-800Jeb Bush believes “We need to get the lawyers off the back of the warfighters. Right now under President Obama, we’ve created… this standard that is so high that it is impossible to be successful in fighting ISIS.”



Donald_August_19_(cropped)Donald Trump is “winning” alright… he’s winning the campaign for most deplorable future war criminal (but it’s a close contest). He actually seems excited to harm people. He would bring back torture (despite a CIA report that it doesn’t work). Even if it doesn’t work, said Trump, “they deserve it anyway.” He also told Fox news, “the other thing with terrorists is you have to take out their families…When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”


I’m not going to put this into beautiful language: what is being condoned here is disgusting. It would turn the U.S. military into something akin to Nazis. The total extermination of an “enemy”, which the GOP is defining by their religious affiliation and/or the region in which they live? Yeah, that’s not war. That’s genocide.

Literally, here’s the definition of genocide:

Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;

  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, this one is for you: if we engage in carpet bombing or nuclear warfare in the Middle East, if we start indiscriminately killing not just combatants, but their families, you will have orchestrated not only a genocide, but probably have started a rebel group more radical, more hell bent on revenge than ISIS.

If you do not make the time to identify combatants, then you are providing an example where innocent civilians are publicly boasted about being fair game in war. Do you really want the U.S. to set that as the new standard for warfare?

Ben Carson: the killing of children is murder – not war. Enemy combatants are defined, traditionally, as military aged young men wearing usually some kind of identifiable gear and visibly carrying a weapon. Understandably, enemy combatants are not always wearing a kind of uniform. But enemy combatants are NEVER children.

ISIS has been known to use child soldiers, but these child soldiers will be among the people most victimized by ISIS. They are brutally tortured when they are conscripted, taken out of school, develop a skill set and mentality of war that they will carry with them for years, and are often deeply troubled at the end of the conflict, unable to repatriate into a peaceful society.

Take, for example, these stories of Mohammed and Ahmed.

Ahmed and Mohammed are from the same part of Syria. They had worked with rebels to fight Assad’s regime, but went into hiding when ISIS took over eastern Syria. Mohammed, 13, was kidnapped from his home by ISIS and locked in a jail with 75 other boys and men for two months. He says they were all tortured savagely. After two months of torture, Mohammed was sent to an ISIS indoctrination school. He tried to run away, but was captured, and as his punishment, his leg and arm were cut off.

When ISIS captured Ahmed, they guaranteed his safety if he went to indoctrination school. And then they kept adding demands: be an ISIS fighter, go to the front lines. He was able to escape from Iraq to Turkey. He says that ISIS repeatedly tried to convince him and other boys to become suicide bombers. According to Mohammed, ISIS focuses on children, because “children are unaware of anything in this life” – in effect, they are easier to brainwash into being soldiers.

So, even when children are combatants, they are not our enemy. And importantly, no adult – in military or police gear – should have to kill a child in order to disarm him/her.

Ben Carson: No adult should ever say they are OK with the killing of children for the benefit of a greater good – that’s something literally out of a Jonathan Swift satirical short story. And, Jesus, these kids have been through enough.

Now, for Jeb Bush. You can tell he is a career politician because isn’t already planning his war crimes and talking about them specifically. He’s just saying, it could happen and he would be OK if it needed to happen.

Here’s why that’s terrifying: there are a lot of different war crimes, and I want to know what exactly Jeb Bush would like to put to our national conscience.

Would he like U.S. soldiers to cut off water supply to areas with ISIS soldiers and their families, like what the Serbian Army did in Bosnia?

Would he like to torture terror suspects, despite reports from the CIA that U.S. torture does not work and did not work following the 9/11 terror attacks?

Would he agree with Ted Cruz, and carpet bomb wide areas in the wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages?

Would he agree with Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and ask U.S. soldiers to murder families of terror victims? And would these family deaths include just spouses, parents and children, or would it extend to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and grandchildren?

Can we see these questions in the next GOP debate? Then it will be clear, that this election will determine what code of morals we expect in how we treat one another, and how we treat the rest of the world.

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Take Action: U.S. Sanctions Should Not Impact Humanitarian Aid in North Korea


Action Alert: Tell the U.S. Congress that sanctions should never be imposed in a way that would severely restrict humanitarian aid getting to the people who need it the most.

The North Korean people already suffer tremendous human rights abuses at the hands of an oppressive government. We cannot prolong or worsen their suffering because of their government’s nuclear test.

Sign This Petition Today + Call your Member of Congress: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50601/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17554&tag=TWDPRKprotectaid

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Statement on the North Korea Nuclear Weapons Test

It’s a very very unfortunate turn of events that North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb, but an even greater reason for the United States to end its futile policy of “strategic patience” (ie waiting for the North Korean regime to collapse) and engage.

We need the peace movement that mobilized for the Iran deal to press for a peace treaty with North Korea, which Pyongyang has recently appealed for and was a promise made 63 years ago when Washington signed the armistice agreement with China and North Korea temporarily halting the war. It’s what the South Korean peace movements have been calling for, and we need the U.S. Public to become aware of this history.

Christine Ahn
Peace Action Advisory Board Member
Lead Organizer of 2015 Women’s Peace Delegation to North and South Korea


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Islam and Islamophobia: A Primer

Does Islam breed terrorism? Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, this question has surfaced dozens of times in the last month alone on the news and around college campuses.

America has a good reason to be frightened, and it is only human to look for answers by profiling our perpetrators. Plus, some scholars argue that Islam is an inherently violent belief system, since verses in the Qur’an call for the annihilation of infidels and strict punishments for sinners. However, Islam is based on much more than the Qur’an alone; it includes the sayings of Mohammed (Hadith) and modern intellectual interpretations of the Qur’an, among other important readings and commentaries. These readings go much deeper than the literal reading of verses like these, and place their focus much more heavily on the components of Islam that foster personal faith and piety.

As a whole, Islam is neither a religion of violence nor a religion of peace; it is a religion built upon personal responsibility for one’s actions and total surrender to God. So, how can extremely violent groups like the Islamic State commit such heinous crimes in the name of Islam and Allah?

The Islamic State practices Salafi Islam, which is a significant digression from the broad contextual understanding of the Qur’an I described above. Salafiism disregards supplementary texts and preachings, including a total rejection of the Naql, the Usul al-Fiqh, the Tafsir, the Qiyas, and the Ijma, which are all supplementary rules and readings of the Holy Text. Salafi Islam also chooses alternative sayings of the Prophet (Hadith) to those accepted by nearly all other sects of Islam, and reads the Qur’an literally instead of figuratively. Salafiism takes a radical stance on women’s rights, marriage and dress code, although it is by no means inherently violent. Salafiism condemns murder and rape, and explicitly notes that Jihad (holy war, a common buzzword on Fox News) should never be declared unless Muslim lives or territories are under threat of a direct attack. Although at their core Salafi ideals align with those of mainstream Islamic sects, Salafi literalism makes it easier for these ideals to be taken to extremes and the Qur’an to be taken out of context.

This is to say that the Islamic State and terrorist groups like it practice a much more radical tradition of Islam than the vast majority of Muslims on earth, and even this radical belief system requires gross manipulation to be used as a justification for violence.

Why, then, is it so easy for Americans to attribute terrorism and general bad behavior to Islam?

In fact, the Islamic State’s policies of violent suppression are much more a reflection of its status as a terrorist organization than an Islamic group. Bruce Hoffman, a renowned terrorism and counterterrorism scholar, writes in his book The Terrorist Mind-set that terrorist organizations across the board seek attention, acknowledgement, recognition, authority, and governance (in that order). The Islamic State’s recent attacks across the world seem to align with this. Terrorist groups with a religious affiliation tend to be more senselessly violent, since it is easier to unify people against an enemy of God than an enemy of man. Finally, Hoffman notes that “for [terrorist organizations], the future rather than the present defines their reality”. The Islamic State seeks a theocratic society centered around extreme Islamic ideals, and that future defines its present reality as a group. With this in mind, it makes sense that the Islamic State is known for its strict adherence to Quranic law, and can justify radical violence as a means to this end.

In sum, we as a people need to focus more on the “State” than the “Islamic”; that is, the Islamic State, while based in Islam, commits horrible acts as a means to an end of achieving autonomy as a state, not as a religious community. It is first and foremost a terrorist organization. By publicizing and promoting misconceptions about the ties between Islam and terrorism, Western media merely reinforces extremist goals by mongering hatred and fear. If we want to see an end to Islamic extremism, we need to stop falling for terrorist tricks and refuse to let Islam become synonymous with violence. We should work to end terrorism, not religious freedom.

IMG_0928This blog was written by Evelyn Torsher, a Fall 2015 Peace Organizer at Hamilton College. For more information on our student network, click here.

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Giving Up a Cappuccino a Week for Peace

The United States could meet its spending goal on aid for poor countries if each American gave up one Starbucks cappuccino each week. Lock Johnson asks the question: “are Americans willing to sacrifice what amounts to a cup of coffee in order to save the lives of the 20,000 individuals who currently perish from extreme poverty each day?” Annually, $450 billion is spent on the military, but the United States has yet to meet this goal. It may not even be the fact that Americans are unwilling to help, but rather have misinformation about foreign aid.

In a poll conducted in 2010, Americans were asked how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average estimate was 25% and many Americans responded that an appropriate amount should be lower, at about 10%. In reality, only 1% of the annual budget funds foreign aid.

Of course Americans want to decrease foreign aid because American leaders have done a subpar job explaining to the American people where their tax dollars are going. If Americans were informed about how little the government actually spends on development and foreign aid, they may support an increase in foreign assistance.


Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them, but times have changed. Here we are in the twenty first century with access to the most modern communication devices and Americans still lack knowledge about key events that occur around the world. We produce citizens who cannot even point to Iraq on a map when our country has sent forces abroad. Three years after the Iraq War began, only 37 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 18 and 24, could find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

So, why did we spend so much on a war in a country that could not be labeled on a map?

We isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and therefore our foreign policy is impacted. In President Obama’s 2009 Speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he declared that it is “time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges”, yet we don’t see these words turned into action. It is best for the United States to act in a collective response to address global challenges since the international arena is too large and complex for the United States to act alone. Our first step to action needs to be increasing our foreign aid and decreasing our ignorance in this country.


This blog post was written by Alie Iwanenko, our Peace Organizer at Canisius College. For more information on our student network, click here.

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What a year!

Thank You - All Supporters-min

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Social Action and Syria

Take Action for Syria 2

There are countless political and economic reasons to put an end to the violent military involvement in Syria, and for the United States to open its borders to welcome refugees.

Just a few of the most significant reasons include:

  1. Excessive US military spending – 54% of federal discretionary spending to be exact1 – enables attacks in Syria that will catalyze the flight of more refugees;
  2. Closing our borders to refugees substantiates ISIS’ message that the West rejects refugees, increases ISIS’ appeal for recruitment, and increases potential threats to American national security2;
  3. Military involvement leads to more harm inflicted on civilians than on ISIS fighters, as revealed by the airstrikes in Syria by Russia3 and by a military coalition led by France and the United States4, and again strengthens the anti-Western sentiment that ISIS aims to propagate.

Another aspect of these issues – the social aspect – is at the forefront of discussion. Anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric floods mainstream media, perpetuated by politicians, and absorbed by masses of Americans.

To most people, the danger of this rhetoric is not apparent.
To most people, this xenophobic rhetoric is seen as the solution to keeping peace in America.

However, since these sentiments have dominated public attitudes, the United States has seen a rise in military involvement overseas5, and a rise in domestic threats and attacks against Syrian and Muslim Americans6. It is these sentiments that incite and perpetuate the aforementioned problems – excessive militarism and attacks on the innocent.

Clearly, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim fear mongering has incited cycles of violence both within and beyond the borders of the United States.

Although these perspectives are at the forefront of discussion, peaceful social solutions are neglected from the conversation. In response to the fear mongering of mainstream media, many organizations and activists have emerged to lead a new conversation that seeks to bring to light the true roots of the crisis in Syria and true peaceful nature of Syrian refugees. This new conversation is crucial for finding peaceful and efficient solutions to the Syria crisis.

UAlbany Peace Action is one of the key player student organizations sparking this conversation on our campus and local community. Our solution is this: humanize the issue, confront misconceptions, and commit to social action. We seek to do so by engaging and educating our communities through a yearlong advocacy campaign, including two major upcoming events – a “Refugee Visibility Day” open gallery on campus and a “Journey of a Refugee” simulation.


This campaign seeks to fight misrepresentations of the issues in Syria by challenging people to confront their misinformation about the crisis and confront their own misconceptions towards refugees.

In addition to aiming to portray Syrians in a truthful humanizing light, we are aiming to equip members of our community with the knowledge and tools to partake in social action in ordinary ways. Some means of social action include signing petitions, calling members of Congress, and donating to charity.

But UAlbany Peace Action also challenges our members and the members of our community to go beyond demanding others to take action, and to answer the call to social action themselves. Through the dialogues we have sparked on campus, we have had the opportunity to conceive ideas for unique and effective social action methods. These actions include volunteering with locally resettled refugee populations to show that all refugees are welcome in our community; volunteering with local refugee resettlement agencies to increase these organizations’ capacities to resettle future Syrian refugee arrivals; joining advocacy efforts and offering support to the local Syrian activist community; and becoming leaders in advocating for non-violent solutions to the Syrian crisis.

Facilitating dialogue that instills a commitment to social action is key to finding creative and peaceful solutions to the many aspects of the Syrian crisis. Many more key players are needed to lead this conversation, and everyone is capable of answering the call to action.

 To the reader: I call for you to challenge yourself to be informed – to confront misinformation and misconceptions. I call for you to go beyond advocacy – to take social action, and to instill this commitment to peace in others. When we come together through dialogue for a shared vision for peace, then we can make change.


Michelle Deocampo UALBANYThis post was written by Michelle DeOCampo. She is the Student Organizer for PANYS at the University of Albany. For more on Michelle and all of our student organizers, click here.














  • “Military Spending in the United States”. (2015). The National Priorities Project. Retrieved from https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/
  • Bertrand, N. (2015). “The intense backlash to Syrian refugees ‘plays right into’ ISIS’ hand”. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/syrian-refugee-backlash-isis-2015-11
  • Malsin, J. (2015). “Russian Airstrikes in Syria Seem to Be Hurting Civilians More Than ISIS”. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4129222/russia-airstrikes-syria-civilian-casualties-isis/
  • Devereaux, R. (2015). “As France Bombs ISIS, Civillians are Caught in the Middle”. The Intercept. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2015/11/19/as-france-bombs-isis-civilians-are-caught-in-the-middle/
  • Barnard, A. & Rubin, A. (2015). “France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in Retaliation for Attacks”. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/
  • Greenwald, G. (2015). “Threats and Violent Attacks Against Muslims in the U.S.”. The Intercept. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2015/12/12/threats-and-violent-attacks-against-muslims-in-the-u-s-just-from-this-week/


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