Next Monday morning in White Plains, NY, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will consider a resolution against the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) that concludes in alarmist terms:
we loudly and forcefully reject a movement that seeks to undermine Israel and malign the Jewish people.
The resolution (full draft below) is bipartisan, and is named after board chair Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat, and vice-chair Jim Maisano, a Republican. It reflects NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s blacklisting of BDS, which is a nonviolent campaign to put international pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian human rights.
You can be sure that opponents of BDS will be gathering to push the bill. The American Jewish Committee writes, “While ALL 50 states… have now adopted some form of anti-BDS legislation, Westchester has not yet done so. Now is the time to ask our elected officials for their support of this important resolution….”
But supporters of BDS are also organizing. They urge friends of Palestinians to write or call legislators ahead of the meeting on Monday (10 AM, at 148 Martine Avenue in White Plains). Opponents have cited the California Democratic Party’s recent resolution that decries the occupation and does not bar BDS.
Felice Gelman writes at the Wespac Foundation site about the great progressive history of boycott efforts, including in South Africa and North Carolina:
Accusations of anti-Semitism should not to be tossed around lightly by our elected officials. Anti-Semitism is a real problem – one that was given new momentum by the Trump campaign’s willingness to accept the support of well-known white nationalist anti-Semites. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign in support of Palestinian rights has the support of many American Jews and explicitly disavows anti-Semitism. It is a campaign directed against the repressive and colonialist policies of the Israeli government, not against the Jewish people.
Further, our Democratic legislators seem unaware of the crucial role that the non-violent tactic boycott has played in human rights struggles. Did any of our legislators support the boycott of South Africa’s apartheid regime? South Africa is and was an ally of the U.S. and the boycott was a major contributor to the end of apartheid and the liberation of the black majority of that country and made the US a better ally.
Did any of our legislators more recently support the boycott of North Carolina – endorsed by Gov. Cuomo – that protested that state’s laws discriminating against transgender people?
Priscilla Read of Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, has written a letter to the legislators urging them to defeat the bill. Here’s an excerpt, documenting Palestinian conditions:
In 1966 when I was a senior in high school, I organized my first day-long discussion of issues related to what was then known as the “Arab-Israeli conflict.” I majored in Near East Studies in college and have been engaged with this subject ever since.
In November 2012, during a tour of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, I observed on the ground what the military occupation looks like. It is unspeakably ugly – physically brutal and psychologically Kafka-esque. It operates through an arbitrary and cruel imposition of unpredictable rules and regulations enforced through overwhelming force against a subject people whose lives have become an unrelenting grind. Some 40% of Palestinian men have been held in Israeli prisons, many of them without charge or trial. Children as young as six have been detained not only without lawyers but also without the presence of their parents. Youths throwing stones confront soldiers carrying heavy arms and driving tanks, radically upending the David-Goliath motif. Houses are demolished, orchards uprooted, access to property and livelihood made difficult if not impossible. Military checkpoints at shifting points and schedules make movement from one community to another endlessly time-consuming. This disrupts jobs, education, family and social life, and access to basic services, including health care.
The Occupation is tantamount to ethnic-cleansing: it makes life so intolerable that people are pressured to emigrate, and a few drift into hopelessness and despair. That the vast majority of Palestinians resist this abusive regime nonviolently day in and day out is testimony to their courage, their humanity, and their steadfastness in the face of injustice.
I was deeply ashamed to see Israeli repression abetted by the United States. Much of the equipment and weaponry used to enforce the occupation is stamped “Made in America.” This association is not lost on the peoples of the surrounding countries, in whose eyes U.S. involvement is linked to repression and violence.
Here is another letter opposing the legislation from Robert Herbst, a Westchester resident and member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Herbst bases his opposition to the bill on the “arbitrary and cruel” form of segregation that he witnessed himself. Note his comments about swimming pools for settlers in the West Bank and the detention of Palestinian children:
On behalf of the members of Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester, I urge you to withdraw, or vote against, this resolution…
Like many JVP members, I have been to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact, I just returned from two weeks there. I found the racial segregation and domination of Palestinians to be arbitrary and cruel. Since the illegal 1967 annexation of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods and the land of 28 Palestinian communities deprived those residents of the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the land expropriation, forced transfer of Palestinians and establishment of settlements has been systematic and premeditated.
There is no public housing for Palestinians, and they are prevented from building homes by the requirement of a permit, which is routinely and arbitrarily withheld from Palestinians, and in the very few cases in which permits are granted, they are very expensive. The 20,000 homes built without permits containing more than 85,000 Palestinians are all subject to demolition, with the cost of demolition imposed on their owners.
There are virtually no parks or swimming pools in East Jerusalem, except in Jewish settlements. “Greater Jerusalem” – the Jewish-Israeli metropolitan area, now extends from Ramallah in the North, to the Dead Sea in the East, and Hebron to the South, facilitated by the Wall and a network of highways that tie the settlements into West Jerusalem and Israel. By building and locating the Wall where it did, Israel effectively confiscated 9-11% of the West Bank and put the water acquifer inside it. Israel now controls 85% of the water in the West Bank. While water is plentiful enough in Jewish West Bank settlements to keep the swimming pools overflowing, Palestinian West Bank residents are often deprived of running water for many hours a day.
In the West Bank, I saw up close how ugly, brutal and implacable the occupation is, enforced by overwhelming force and intimidation of the local population. Many Palestinian families have endured raids of their homes without warning by Israeli soldiers. Children as young as 12 years old have been taken from homes or streets and jailed without charges for weeks or months. Two out of five Palestinian men have been held at one time or another in Israeli prisons, often without charge or trial. Release is often conditioned on agreement to collaborate with authorities, making those released suspect in the eyes of their Palestinian brothers and sisters even if they have not agreed to collaborate. Israeli soldiers, border police and settlers routinely walk around with guns, the latter too-often assaulting or taunting Palestinians children going to or from school.
Tens of thousands of homes have been demolished, olive orchards have been destroyed, much of Palestinian agricultural land has been taken or threatened, while military checkpoints routinely make travel from one Palestinian town to another close by away take hours. The United States has manufactured and delivered much of the military hardware and software used to enforce the occupation, to our shame and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions which call upon all UN member states to refrain from assisting or facilitating these violations of international law.
Herbst, a civil rights lawyer, concludes his letter by saying that BDS supporters are standing up for the principles that the U.S. government claims to adhere to, and that the resolution punishes dissent:
Under international law, the Israeli annexation and occupation of Palestinian lands is considered illegal and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians an abuse of human rights. For decades, the stated policy of the United States Government has been that settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Americans who support BDS are therefore adhering to the principles to which their government pays lip service.
The anti-BDS initiative before you is wrong-headed. It discourages thinking and action that is humanitarian in outlook by seeking to end grave harm and suffering. It distracts attention from pressing local issues, serves no discernible local interest, and alienates politically active sectors of Westchester’s residents who believe that the freedom to hold dissenting views without government pressure is a foundation of American democracy. It encourages Israel to persist in policies toward the Palestinians that undermine its Jewish values and its claim to democracy, damage its standing in international public opinion and contravene international law and human rights.
What follows is a draft resolution that has been shared with us, titled, “In Support of Israel.”
WHEREAS, the State of Israel is a critical and invaluable ally of the United States;
WHEREAS, the County of Westchester and Israel enjoy a special historical relationship and share a commonly forged cultural bond;
WHEREAS, the County of Westchester does not support boycott related tactics that are used to threaten the sovereignty and security of allies and trade partners of the United States;
WHEREAS, the County of Westchester unequivocally rejects the international BDS movement and stands firmly with Israel;
WHEREAS, the County of Westchester supports interfaith dialogue to address issues;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT at this critical time, in the face of the movement to promote anti-Israel boycotts both in this country and around the globe, we strongly condemn the international BDS movement; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT we reaffirm our support for Israel as a vital U.S. ally, important economic partner and champion of freedom; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT we loudly and forcefully reject a movement that seeks to undermine Israel and malign the Jewish people.