The two sides of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement squared off in New York’s City Hall on Thursday, with BDS activists disrupting a hearing where city council members discussed a resolution condemning BDS. The resolution doesn’t add penalties, but displays a hostility to a non-violent act of free speech, BDS supporters say.
Click to read Resolution 1058-2016 or see the wording after Donna’s testimony below.
Testimony of Jane Hirschmann and Donna Nevel before the New York City council on 9/8/16
My name is Jane Hirschmann and I am representing a group called Jews Say No! We are a NYC based group of Jews who stand up for human rights and justice in Palestine. We believe that it is in the best tradition of the Jewish people to criticize, argue, think and think some more about issues of justice and fairness and to protest human rights abuses where they exist. Indeed for many of us that is one of the main lessons of the Holocaust. Also as Jews we have a particular obligation to speak out concerning Israel, which purports to speak for Jews everywhere.
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors anti-Semitism concerns me deeply. But to suggest as this resolution does, that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic or an attempt to delegitimize Israel is unfounded rhetoric and defamatory. This resolution and similar ones nationwide have been promoted by the Israeli lobby and segments of this community to distract people from the real issues at hand—Israel’s human rights abuses and blatant disregard for the law. This resolution is based on the premise that if you protest the inhumane behavior and policies of a nation state, you are delegitimizing that state, and in the case of Israel, you are anti-Semitic.
The United Nations and several International courts have made it very clear that Israel is in violation of international law. These violations include the 60 year illegal occupation of the West Bank; the illegal settlement expansion which contravenes long standing U.S. policy and hinders any serious peace effort; the theft of Palestinian lands; the blockade of Gaza and the horrific slaughter of thousands of Gaza civilians, to name just a few. Protesting and boycotting Israel for its lawlessness and violence against the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic. It is pro human rights. Can one criticize a country and their abuses without saying that those engaged in this criticism are either delegitimizing the country or, as in this case, are anti-Semitic? In fact, the notion that our protest of Israel’s abuses delegitimizes Israel is preposterous. Israel by persistently acting in an illegitimate way is delegitimizing itself. Every time it violates human rights standards, it delegitimizes itself; by occupying the West Bank it delegitimizes itself; by building a wall it delegitimizes itself, by stealing Palestinian homes and water it delegitimizes itself; by destroying Gaza it delegitimizes itself. And I could go on and on.
On the issue of boycotts I ask you to remember the bus boycotts in Montgomery. Did the boycotts delegitimize Alabama or did the racist policies delegitimize the State? Or take the boycott of South Africa for its apartheid policies. Did the boycott delegitimize the country or was it the conduct of that country? What about the most recent boycott initiated by Governor Cuomo against North Carolina over their anti-LGBT law. Was this an attempt on the Governor’s part to delegitimize that State or just a peaceful non-violent method to protest and force change by using economic and social pressure?
We in the BDS movement are also using this same time-honored, non-violent method to protest the activities of a nation state—Israel. We are not protesting the Jewish people per se because Israel does not represent nor speak for Jews all over the world. Opposing a country’s policy, is not opposing all of its residents nor is it delegitimizing the country. In the case of Israel we are simply joining a growing portion of the International community to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel until it ceases its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians; until the occupation has ended; until the right of return is recognized; and until Palestinians can live in dignity with all the same rights as Israelis.
This Israeli campaign to stifle first amendment activity, including the BDS movement is an attempt to delegitimize our constitution and the city council should not be a party to this.
Jane Hirschmann, one of the co-founders of Jews Say No!
Testimony before the New York City council
Donna Nevel, Board Member, Jewish Voice for Peace
As part of my commitment to speaking out and supporting the movement for justice in Palestine and Israel, I would like to speak about why I consider it my responsibility to stand in support of the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and why I strongly oppose the resolution being put forth today. As a board member of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization dedicated to a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis, I am speaking here to represent the growing numbers of progressive Jews who support this global movement for justice.
The BDS movement is motivated by a call for solidarity from the international community. In 2005, a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society called for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and ends its violations of Palestinian rights.
The resolution under discussion shamelessly and shamefully distorts the BDS movement’s goals. BDS is about leveraging pressure to compel a state to change its behavior and respect human rights. The BDS movement is not permanent; this pressure is needed only UNTIL Israel complies with basic principles of equality.
BDS has garnered such strong international support among concerned people, including Jews, across the globe because people of conscience oppose decades of denial of a people’s basic human and national rights.
One of the false and destructive accusations being made is that it is anti-Semitic to support BDS. This is not only a highly irresponsible accusation, and harmful to those fighting for justice, but it also does an injustice to the reality of actual anti-Semitism when it occurs.
It is not discriminatory in any way to hold a nation-state accountable for its human rights abuses and for violations of international law. There is nothing anti-Semitic about that in any rational definition of anti-Semitism.
There has been a call from Palestinian civil society, whose community is suffering on a daily basis, to join an international effort to hold Israel accountable to changing its behavior. That is ethical; that is a call I embrace.
On a final and personal note, I support the ethical and yes, dignified call for BDS–as a Jew and as a human being committed to justice and to peace. I have always felt—and continue to feel—deeply connected to my community’s history of struggle and resistance; of the anti-Semitism and oppression we’ve endured. In no way is my support for BDS and my deep commitment to justice for Palestinians at odds with that deep connection to my people. In fact, it grows out of my history and life as a Jewish person who grew up learning from my deeply ethical parents to be proud of who I was but to never think I was better than anyone else or any other people, and to fight against injustice whenever and wherever I saw it.
Therefore, I will continue to support BDS with thousands and thousands of others across the globe UNTIL there is a just solution rooted in ending state policies that are discriminatory and anti-democratic and in insuring equal rights and respect and safety for all.
I hope you will reject this very wrong-headed resolution that attempts to trivialize and distort a critical human rights issue.
Resolution condemning all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.
By Council Member Cohen, Deutsch, Garodnick, Greenfield, Grodenchik, Kallos, Koslowitz, Lancman, Levine, Maisel, Treyger, Rosenthal, Cabrera, Palma, King, Gibson, Gentile, Espinal, Richards, Koo, Vacca, Van Bramer, Vallone, Johnson, Dickens, Borelli, Matteo and Ulrich
Whereas, The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) is a campaign seeking to exclude the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of humanity; and
Whereas, This movement targets not just the Israeli government but Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel; and
Whereas, The Global BDS Movement targets Israel and only Israel, while ignoring the world’s myriad despotic regimes; and
Whereas, Israel is far and away the most democratic and open society in the Middle East, with well-established rights for religious minorities, women, and LGBT citizens that far exceeds those of any other nation in the region; and
Whereas, The Global BDS Movement does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination; and
Whereas, Some of the BDS Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric, including comparison of Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany; and
Whereas, University-based BDS efforts violate the core goals of the university and global cultural development, which thrive on a free and open exchange and debate; and
Whereas, Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in safe and secure states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition; and
Whereas, The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, a goal which can only be reached through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; and
Whereas, Israel is an ally of the United States and has a long-standing relationship with the City of New York; and
Whereas, The City of New York has the largest population of Jewish residents in the nation and is home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel; now, therefore be it
Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York condemns all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction its government and people.