Tonight at 7 PM in White Plains, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will consider a resolution, passed 12-1 in committee, to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) as “a movement that seeks to undermine Israel and malign the Jewish people.”
What follows is a letter from Howard Horowitz of New Rochelle urging the board not to approve the measure, followed by an alternative measure put forward by Jewish Voice for Peace in Westchester that praises the BDS campaign and supports human rights and equality for all peoples in the region.
Dear Legislator [Sheila] Marcotte and the Westchester Board of Legislators,
Please vote your conscience and vote no on Resolution #10140, the Kaplowitz-Maisano bill, that was voted out of Legislative Committee and will now come before you on Monday evening, June 19th. Here are important facts and factors to consider:
Israel is in gravest danger from within, from its own actions. Owing much to US taxpayers who provide over $3 billion dollars in military aid annually (more than all other countries combined), Israel is strong, not weak, and the country is not in imminent danger. A vote for resolution 10140 will weaken the forces for peace as Israelis struggle against a vicious, right-wing government that lies to Americans and the world. How? The current Israeli government issues public statements to audiences in the US claiming it is for peace and the two-state solution, and immediately thereafter, Netanyahu delivers speeches in Hebrew to the settlers and their right-wing supporters endorsing the expansion of the settlements, declaring there will be no state for the Palestinians, and promising to break Palestinian resistance (as reported in the New York Times and Haaretz).
The proposed legislation before you has its origins in the right-wing Israeli government that does not share the values that Mr. Kaplowitz, Mr. Maisano and other legislators claimed for Israel during the Legislative Committee session. It comes out of a well-funded campaign to ensure resolutions like this one get brought before governors, state legislators, and county governments far and wide across the US. Some, in these times, would say that this type of “meddling” in our government processes is worthy of investigation into its sources.
As a member of the Jewish community, I am sorry, embarrassed and dismayed that AJC [American Jewish Committee] and WJC [World Jewish Congress] are participating in this resolution effort. This resolution will have harmful effects on democracy in Israel, no matter what anyone may think of BDS. To ensure that democracy is preserved, please vote no. In your public and leadership capacity—and especially in this age of Trump and Netanyahu—your right to free speech does not preclude your responsibility to base your important political decisions on the facts, not on propaganda emanating out of the Netanyahu regime in Israel.
The military occupation of Palestine is by definition undemocratic; Israel has absolute power as it violates international law by expropriating Palestinian land and rights and transferring them to settlers. Even in Israel proper, Palestinians are subject to housing and job discrimination much like African Americans experienced with the Jim Crow laws that were met by non-violent (and sometimes violent) civil rights protest. Was American democracy destroyed or saved by the protest against Jim Crow? Will Israel’s democracy be destroyed or saved by nonviolent protest—which is what BDS is—as it feels the economic pressure and hopefully receives the moral message?
Israeli military occupation generates insecurity by imposing rule on a population without the consent of the governed. We should condemn all forms of violence and in the tradition of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, we should demand, not condemn, nonviolent forms of resistance to bring about change.
Why then does Resolution #10140 condemn a non-violent form of protest to bring about the change that every single legislator must know deep down is essential in order for Israel to survive and thrive as a democracy?
Why does the current Israeli government feel so threatened by BDS that it sends agents and tens of millions of dollars far and wide across this country to lobby for anti-BDS legislation? This is a classic David and Goliath story. This legislative body and each legislator are under pressure by the Goliath that is being supported by the well-heeled AJC and WJC (of which my congregation is a member). There is a David in this story that is being silenced. BDS, whatever its flaws, is not, as you are being led to believe, a big money cabal against the Jewish people; it is a movement of people working to uplift the lives of the weak in the face of one of the strongest powers on earth and the big money politics arrayed against them. As you deliberate your vote, please follow the dictates of conscience and righteousness, not crude power and might.
Supporters of this resolution claim BDS singles out Israel. Is that what is happening here, or is Israel the one being given a pass for the transgressions of a military occupation? Please keep in mind that the countries invoked as “worse than Israel” are under sanctions and/or military siege by from the US government, the UN and the international community. Those countries include North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and Venezuela, among others. How exactly is Israel being singled out?
This one-sided resolution thoroughly condemns one side and completely praises the other side (please see below for an alternative that cares and does not condemn). This resolution is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians. Further, the resolution before you commits the unspeakable transgression of falsely claiming anti-Semitism, a hallmark of the propaganda of the Netanyahu government. Engaging in such false claims (“crying wolf”) pulls the rug out from combatting actual anti-Semitism that in these terrible times has reached into the White House.
Please do not fall for the propaganda. Please keep your moral compass in place and stand up to the political pressure. Please remember the Montgomery bus boycott, please remember the boycott of apartheid in South Africa, and please remember New York States’ boycott of anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina. By passing this legislation, you would contradict your previous opinions and moral judgments regarding boycotts for civil and human rights.
Finally, this resolution is “foreign” to the business of Westchester County. Those lobbying you in favor of this resolution do not represent the liberal, progressive Jewish community of Westchester. I am a part of that community; that community has not been consulted. That community votes its liberal values, and they wish for Israel to live up to its claims to be a democracy. They, too, are silenced in their own community by the same forces and groups pushing this legislation. You can give them voice by voting no on Resolution #10140.
You have nothing to fear by voting against this resolution. Quite the opposite. If you vote in favor of this resolution, your constituents and your Jewish constituents will be disappointed that you did not stand up for what is right in this case. If you vote against this resolution, your constituents in Westchester County will hail you for standing up for democracy and for justice.
Please vote your conscience on Resolution #10104; please vote no.
New Rochelle, NY
The alternative resolution:
Alternative WBOL Resolution Proposed by Jewish Voice for Peace Westchester: Supporting Peace, Justice and Equality for Israelis and Palestinians and Robust Discourse:
WHEREAS, fifty years of occupation and settlements have devastated Palestinian lives, corroded Israeli democracy, and threatened the sustainability of the State of Israel; and
WHEREAS, for many years the stated policy of U.S. administrations has been that settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace; and
WHEREAS, the ongoing occupation has fostered an international, nonviolent Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States and around the globe to protest the occupation and its devastating effects on Palestinians and their livelihoods; and
WHEREAS the right to boycott is protected under the First Amendment and was reinforced by the Supreme Court’s decision in N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware, Inc 458 U.S. 886.913 (1982), which clearly established that First Amendment protections apply to politically motivated boycotts aimed at influencing public policy and promoting social change; and
WHEREAS, we hereby recognize the danger to free speech of conflating legitimate criticism of a government’s policies with Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism; and
WHEREAS, ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, recognizing the equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees would foster dialogue to the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis and bring about an end to boycotts directed at Israel; and
WHEREAS for decades Democrats, Republicans, and members of Congress have expressed criticism of Israel’s now nearly 50-year occupation of Palestinian lands but failed to back up that criticism with concrete steps to change the status quo and bring about a genuine peace process; and
Be It Therefore Resolved that the Westchester County Board of Legislators favors a U.S. policy that works through the United Nations and other international bodies as well as with Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people for a just peace based on international law, human rights, full equality, and security for Israeli Jews, Palestinians, and all the peoples of this region.