After pressure from local pro-Israel organizations, the New Orleans City Council yesterday voted unanimously to rescind a human rights resolution that the body passed exactly two weeks ago.
Pushed for months by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee (NOPSC), Resolution 18-5 would have established a committee to assess all city contracts and terminate those with companies complicit in human rights abuses.
While the resolution mentions no specific country, company or person, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans (JFNOLA) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed immediate outrage that the council would support anything put forth by the NOPSC.
In a joint-statement issued today, the JFNOLA, ADL and Jewish Community Relations Council thanked the City Council for its withdrawal of the resolution.
Still, in an attempt to save face they maintained that the decision “in no way reflects a lack of commitment to human rights, from either Federation, ADL or the City Council.”
Anna Baltzer, Director of organizing and advocacy with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called the vote a “travesty of justice”, revealing the guilty parties’ “disregard not only for Palestinian life but all human life.”
“The hoods are off. We see the way Zionist organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federation are willing to kill a human rights resolution and undermine entire movements to protect Israel,” Baltzer said.
Supporters of the resolution and Palestinian human rights understand that public opinion is affected when such hypocrisy, both on the part of politicians and pro-Israel groups, is laid bare.
“I think the community is having a hard time understanding why the City Council would stand against human rights,” Tabitha Mustafa, co-founder of NOPSC, told Mondoweiss.
This has lead people to question which constituents the City Council feels accountable to, Mustafa noted, and why those constituents “would make them rescind a human rights resolution just because it also advocated for Palestinian rights.”
Although lacking the authority of an actual law, the resolution was understood as a symbolic gesture in support of human rights — a cause that Councilmember-at-large Jason Williams and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell were all too happy to champion.
In accordance with New Orleans’ commitment to be a “Welcoming City,” the final resolution — authored and introduced by Cantrell on January 11 — affirmed the city’s obligation to “protect, respect, and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all.”
Cantrell even met with members of NOPSC before introducing the resolution, in what seemed a genuine commitment to Palestinian human rights in an environment when most politicians shudder at the thought.
But in less than two weeks, a promising and open dialogue crumbled.
“This has just been a steady cold shoulder since the Zionist backlash began,” Max Geller, member of NOPSC told Mondoweiss. “They refused to speak with us. Jason Williams has not returned our emails, neither has the mayor-elect…[she] wouldn’t even make eye contact.”
As Mondoweiss previously reported when the resolution first passed, outgoing New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who strongly criticized the resolution, receives thousands in campaign contributions from pro-Israel groups in the city.
According to public campaign disclosures, major business partners and underwriters of the JFNOLA and other pro-Israel groups in New Orleans contribute heavily to city lawmakers. Councilmember Williams’ campaign received some $8,000, and Mayor-elect Cantrell $23,500, in contributions from the law firm Jones Waker LLP and the private Acadian Ambulance company since 2012. Both companies have headquarters in New Orleans and serve as major underwriters to the JFNOLA.
Despite today’s decision, the cause for human rights including Palestinian rights received an overwhelming response from city residents.
More than two hundred grassroots activists and community members gathered outside, after being denied entry into the meeting.
Chants of “human rights for all!” punctuated the City Council’s swift political turnaround as it voted to abandon the resolution.
During public comments, a handful of JFNOLA, ADL and Jewish Community Relations Council members argued against the resolution as an implicit endorsement of BDS, the movement for Palestinian human rights which the pro-Israel consensus considers anti-semitic.
As council rules limit public comment to fifteen minutes, only a few of the hundreds who showed up to speak in support of Palestinian human rights as human rights had a chance to address the council.
Those same rules, however, authorize Presiding Officer Williams to allow speakers more time, but he denied repeated requests from those speaking in favor of the human rights resolution.
Just two weeks ago, Williams expressed his support for the resolution by connecting it to anti-Apartheid measures taken by cities around the world.
Neither Councilmember Williams nor Mayor-elect Cantrell responded to Mondoweiss’ repeated inquiries.
Supporters of the resolution include a broad and diverse mix of workers, immigrant rights groups, prison reformists, the LGBTQ community, environmental activists, Palestinian rights groups, clergy and rabbis.
In a letter addressed to Mayor-elect Cantrell, Councilmember-at-large Williams and the rest of the City Council, a coalition of twenty-one human rights and legal organizations, local and national, urged lawmakers to “uphold the principles of universal human rights,” as they did when passing the resolution.
Signatories, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), National Human Rights Cities Alliance, and Palestine Legal, note the resolution adheres to city, national and international standards, “especially in the context of business and human rights.”
Calling on lawmakers to reject attempts by organizations that seek to limit or selectively apply universal human rights, the letter closes with the undersigned organizations proclaiming “we stand by you and the values expressed in this important resolution.”
In a statement, Rabbi Brian Walt of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, responded sharply to the vote.
“Today, the arguments I hear from opponents of the New Orleans City Council resolution are very familiar to those I heard from South Africans supporting apartheid,” Rabbi Walt said.
Empathizing with a pro-Israel community that sees the movement for Palestinian rights catalyzing, Rabbi Brant suggested the solution is “not to smear and attack human rights defenders and supporters of the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.”
The solution, he said, is “to join with those who are working for universal human rights for all, including Palestinians.”