Posts Tagged ‘BDS’

New York City Council hearing on BDS

September 10, 2016

imgresThe 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.

Thank you.

 

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.

 

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“Shame on Cuomo”: New Yorkers protest

June 11, 2016

Over 300 people protested outside NY Gov. Cuomo’s office, demanding he rescind “unconstitutional” executive order

 

Salon.com FRIDAY, JUN 10, 2016  

"Shame on Cuomo": New Yorkers protest "McCarthyite" blacklist of supporters of Israel boycott movement BDSA protester at a demonstration against New York Gov. Cuomo’s anti-BDS executive order, in New York City on June 9, 2016 (Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered outside the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, protesting a new pro-Israel policy that legal groups warn is “McCarthyite” and unconstitutional.

Cuomo signed an executive order this weekend that punishes institutions and companies that support a boycott of Israel on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said the executive order establishes a discriminatory “blacklist” that “raises serious First Amendment concerns.”

Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the new policy “plainly unconstitutional in its McCarthyist vision.”

More than 300 protesters joined the demonstration on Thursday, calling on Gov. Cuomo to rescind the executive order.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a social justice group that co-organized the protest, blasted Cuomo’s executive order as an unconstitutional “attempt to repress the growing movement for Palestinian rights.”

“The overwhelming turnout for this protest speaks to the fact that our political leadership is increasingly out of touch with its constituents,” Beth Miller, an activist with the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, told Salon.

“The sidewalks and streets were packed with hundreds of people, standing literally toe-to-toe, to send the clear message that we refuse to be silenced,” she added.

“Gov. Cuomo’s executive order does not change the fact that it is our constitutional right to boycott, and it does not change the fact that it is right to boycott Israel until it respects and upholds Palestinian rights,” Miller stressed.

A dense crowd of protesters lined downtown Manhattan’s 3rd Ave. on Thursday evening.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

They carried an array of signs and banners. Many expressed solidarity with past struggles.

One man held a sign that read, “Boycott worked in Montgomery and South Africa, and it will work in occupied Palestine.” Montgomery refers to a city in Alabama where a 1955 bus boycott helped kick off the civil rights movement.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

JVP stresses that the “Palestinian-led civil society BDS movement is modeled on the global campaign that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.”

BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, an international grassroots movement that promotes nonviolent economic means to pressure Israel to comply with international law and cease its violations of Palestinian human rights. The global campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

Many veteran leaders in the struggle against U.S.- and Israel-backed apartheid in South Africa have endorsed BDS.

“The signs we held and messages we wanted to convey — such as ‘We will continue to boycott for justice until Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and land’ — reflect the many ways Israel is violating basic principles of human rights and international law,” said Donna Nevel, an activist with Jews Say No!, another group that helped organize the demonstration.

These are “the reasons that the BDS movement is so critical,” Nevel told Salon, stressing that BDS can help pressure Israel to change its illegal policies.

Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 157 declares that “the State of New York will not permit its own investment activity to further the BDS campaign in any way, shape or form, whether directly or indirectly.”

The new order, in its own language, establishes “a list of institutions and companies that… participate in boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary.”

Cuomo summarized the new policy: “If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.”

JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson published an op-ed in The New York Daily News on Thursday warning that Cuomo’s executive order will “set a dangerous and likely unconstitutional precedent for governments to deny groups financial opportunities and benefits because of their exercise of First Amendment-protected political speech.”

“When a chief executive unilaterally signs an executive order declaring that the state blacklist and divest from companies and organizations with a particular political view, we usually call that state repression,” she said.

At the protest outside Gov. Cuomo’s office, activists articulated many of the important reasons that a boycott is necessary. They carried a large banner that read “We will continue to boycott for justice until…”, which was accompanied by smaller signs that listed reasons for boycotting Israel.

Some of these reasons included: “until Israel respects Palestinian human rights,” “until the brutal occupation of Palestine ends,” “until Israel stops demolishing Palestinian homes,” “until Israel absolishes segregated schools,” “until Palestinian refugees can return home,” “until the siege of Gaza ends” and “until Palestinians have freedom.”

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

“Despite being planned at a very short notice, the protest had a robust turnout and a powerful presence by hundreds of outraged human rights advocates,” said Hani Ghazi, a member of Adalah-NY, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the third group that co-organized the demonstration.

Ghazi, a Palestinian American activist, told Salon, “We expect the governor to be democratic and to protect our right to free speech and to practice honorable and nonviolent activism.”

“We expect him to side with his constituents, the people of New York, and not with wealthy corporations that profit from, and institutions that comply with, Israel’s human rights abuses, international law violations and other apartheid policies,” he added.

One protester even donned an enormous papier-mache head that looked like Cuomo’s.

For months, the New York legislature unsuccessfully tried to pass anti-boycott legislation. Cuomo circumvented this legal process completely on Sunday, June 5, signing the surprise executive order.

Dima Khalidi, the founder and director of nonprofit legal advocacy organization Palestine Legal and a cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, blasted Cuomo’s executive action.

“Gov. Cuomo can’t wish away the First Amendment with an executive order,” she told Salon on Monday. “It’s clear that Cuomo is bypassing the legislative process in order to muzzle morally-driven positions protesting systemically discriminatory state policies and a military occupation that is 49 years old this week.”

“As with the constitutionally faulty legislation that was pending in Albany, this Executive Order may not infringe — directly or indirectly — on the rights of New Yorkers to engage in constitutionally protected boycotts to effect economic, political or social change,” she added.

Palestine Legal issued a statement calling the executive order “a blatantly unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech [that] establishes a dangerous precedent reminiscent of McCarthyism.”

Riham Barghouti, another activist with Adalah-NY, accused Cuomo of acting undemocratically in order to implement an unpopular pro-Israel policy.

“Like other politicians, Gov. Cuomo is finding that blind support of the Israeli apartheid state requires repressive, undemocratic measures,” Barghouti said. “He is attempting to silence the growing number of morally conscientious individuals and organizations that support freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.”

“We, along with our allies, demand that Gov. Cuomo rescind this order punishing supporters of Palestinian rights and BDS,” she added.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

Anti-boycott legislation has been introduced in more than 20 states throughout the U.S. Bills that are likely unconstitutional have been passed in nine states.

Sen. Chuck Schumer heaped praise on Cuomo for his executive order. The New York senator said he is “looking at introducing a federal law to do the same thing” across the country.

Activists say Thursday’s protest was the first action in a new campaign to pressure the governor to repeal the order.

“This is a new low for the state-sanctioned backlash against the movement for Palestinian human rights,” Nic Abramson, an activist with Jews Say No!, said in a statement.

Abramson emphasized that the Palestinian solidarity movement “is growing and strengthening daily.”

JVP stands by the BDS movement. Vilkomerson, the executive director, defended BDS in Salon in February, warning that she and her organization were on the verge of being blacklisted.

“We act in solidarity with the Palestinian call for international grassroots pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and ends its ongoing repression of Palestinian rights,” explained JVP activist Gabrielle Spears in a statement.

She emphasized, “We will continue to boycott Israel until Palestinian children can live without fear of imprisonment and torture, until there are no longer separate roadways for Israeli Jews and Palestinians, until Israel stops bombing and killing Palestinians, and until the checkpoints and apartheid wall are dismantled.”

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.

We will boycott Israel until it ends human rights abuses against Palestinians

June 10, 2016

Protesters told Cuomo: We will boycott Israel until it ends human rights abuses against Palestinians

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New Yorkers demonstrated outside the Governor’s office after he signed an unconstitutional executive order against using boycotts to advocate for an end to Israel’s human rights abuses.

Thursday June 9, 2016–Hundreds of New Yorkers demonstrated outside Governor Cuomo’s Midtown offices, outraged by the Governor’s unconstitutional executive order requiring the state to create a blacklist and divest from corporations and institutions that support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel. Protesters carried signs that read “We will continue to stand for justice and boycott Israel until the Palestinian people achieve freedom, justice, and equality,” in defiance of the attempt to repress the growing movement for Palestinian rights.

Demonstrators called on Governor Cuomo to rescind his executive order.

NYCCuomoProtest-8

“We act in solidarity with the Palestinian call for international grassroots pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and ends its ongoing repression of Palestinian rights. We will continue to boycott Israel until Palestinian children can live without fear of imprisonment and torture, until there are no longer separate roadways for Israeli Jews and Palestinians, until Israel stops bombing and killing Palestinians, and until the checkpoints and apartheid wall are dismantled,” said Gabrielle Spears, Jewish Voice for Peace.

Riham Barghouti from Adalah-NY commented, “Like other politicians, Governor Cuomo is finding that blind support of the Israeli apartheid state requires repressive, undemocratic measures. He is attempting to silence the growing number of morally conscientious individuals and organizations that support freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. We, along with our allies, demand that Governor Cuomo rescind this order punishing supporters of Palestinian rights and BDS.”

“Governor Cuomo’s McCarthyite order calls for a publicly available blacklist of all companies and institutions that support using boycotts to bring about justice for Palestinians,” said Nic Abramson, Jews Say No! “This is a new low for the state-sanctioned backlash against the movement for Palestinian human rights–a movement that is growing and strengthening daily,” he added.

This executive order comes at a time of growing recognition that external pressure will be needed to end Israel’s occupation and repression of Palestinian rights and establish the conditions of equality that are necessary for a just and lasting peace.

BDS is under attack by politicians in Israel, France, the US, and other European countries attempting to impose laws to repress and even outlaw the growing movement for justice. The Israeli government has threatened Palestinian organizers of the BDS movement with “elimination” and effectively imposed a travel ban on one of the movement’s founders, Omar Barghouti.

In the US, bills to limit BDS activities have been introduced in over 20 states, and have been passed in 9 states. Prior to Cuomo’s executive order, two bills to punish BDS supporters had stalled in the New York legislature due to questions about their constitutionality and opposition from New Yorkers who support BDS and are concerned about the threat of the legislation to their civil liberties.

The Palestinian-led civil society BDS movement is modeled on the global campaign that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. Through boycott and divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, boycott of complicit cultural and academic institutions, and sanctions targeting Israel, the movement aims to pressure Israel to respect the basic rights of the Palestinian people, whether living under Israeli military occupation, as unequal citizens within Israel, or as refugees denied their right of return.

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Faux New York Times highlights biased coverage on Israel/Palestine

February 3, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Contact:
Beth Miller | miller.bethavedon@gmail.com 

Donna Nevel | denevel@gmail.com | 917-570-4371

(February 3, 2016)–Ten thousand copies of a special supplement of The New York Times focused on Israel and Palestine were distributed across NYC yesterday, while thousands of on-line versions made their way across the internet. The special supplement, which was a parody, includes such articles as “Congress to Debate US Aid to Israel” and “In the Footsteps of Mandela and King: A Non-Violent Movement Gains Ground Ten Years On,” as well as an editorial, “Our New Editorial Policy: Rethinking Israel-Palestine.” 

Created by members of Jewish Voice for Peace New York (JVP NY) and Jews Say No!, (JSN), two NYC organizations devoted to justice in Palestine and Israel, the paper was created to “point out how biased current reporting is on Israel and Palestine and to show what a paper that was fair and accurate could look like,” according to JSN member Alan Levine, one of the paper’s writers.

“As a leading source for news in the United States and in the world, The New York Times has a responsibility to its readers to provide fair, balanced, and fact-based coverage. Our paper reflects the news that we wish The Times and other papers would report,” says Candace Graff, one of the organizers of the action from JVP NY. “It includes the context and facts too often missing from The New York Times and other U.S. media outlets.”

The articles highlight Israel’s ongoing policies of military occupation, displacement, and oppression, and “facts on the ground,” such as settlement expansion, the rise in settler violence, discriminatory anti-democratic laws targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the increase of right-wing voices in the Knesset.  “These are all subjects that deserve to be covered and reported on,” Graff added. In a nod towards how U.S. policy on Israel might change if the mainstream media reported fairly on the continuing human rights abuses against Palestinians, the paper includes an editorial that calls on Congress to condition further Israeli military aid on compliance with the Leahy Law, which forbids U.S. military aid to foreign units that have committed human rights abuses. 

The two groups will release a brief video about the action tomorrow (2/4) that includes footage of the group distributing the paper on the streets of NYC. Jane Hirschmann, a member of Jews Say No!, and Ben Norton, a writer at Salon who first revealed the creators of the paper, discussed media bias around Israel/Palestine on Democracy Now this morning (2/3). The faux paper’s domain and twitter account were suspended, but can be viewed here and here

Credits:

Editors: Elly Bulkin, Nina Felshin, Donna Nevel, Rosalind Petchesky

Designer, print edition: Sarah Sills

Designer, online edition: Asa Diebolt

Production, Online edition: Talia Baurer

Writers: Gordon Beeferman, Brandon Davis, Naomi Dann, Candace Graff, Alan Levine, Aurora Levins, Morales, Donna Nevel, Rosalind Petchesky, Ellen Ross, Lynn Lopez Salzedo, Carl Schieren, Irene Siegel, Pamela Sporn

Copyeditor: Dorothy Zellner

Videographers: Rona Merrill, Pam Sporn

Media team: Naomi Dann, Beth Miller, Donna Nevel

Distribution coordinators: Candace Graff, Jane Hirschmann

A large group of volunteers distributed the papers across the city.

The New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is part of a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace has over 200,000 online supporters, over 60 chapter, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, and Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists. Jews Say No!, based in NYC, engages in community education, street theatre, and organizing, and makes their voices heard within the Jewish community and as partners in the broader movement for justice in Palestine/Israel. 

Jews say no to occupation! Jews say yes to #BDS! @ Broadway & 96th. #NYC.

October 27, 2015

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A New Report Shows That the Palestinian Movement is Under Attack in the US

October 15, 2015

Alan Levine: Is boycott a bad word?

July 30, 2015

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/249670-is-boycott-a-bad-word

Hillary Clinton recently wrote a letter to Haim Saban, billionaire owner of Univision and uncompromising supporter of Israel, seeking his advice about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions  (BDS) movement. The movement, she says, seeks to “isolate” and “punish” Israel, and we “need to make countering BDS a priority.” However, her letter does not say what it is that BDS supporters want or believe; not a word about Israel’s human rights violations, an unlawful occupation, collective punishment or any of the other conditions of oppression that prompted Palestinians to initiate the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom and equality.

The inference is that the reasons for BDS do not matter. Boycotts themselves, she implies, are not a legitimate tool in the struggle to achieve human rights. Clinton of course, knows better.

So, too, should the oversight and Government reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security. On July 28 the Subcommittee held a lopsided anti-BDS hearing on the “Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” Explanatory material for the hearing said nothing about BDS being a movement striving for freedom and equal rights.  No Palestinian or Palestinian-American leaders of the movement were there to testify. It was, in fact, very much like holding a hearing on Jim Crow and excluding African-American leaders.Boycott movements have an important and honorable place in our country’s – and the world’s – history of peaceful protest. In my lifetime, three great boycott movements have exposed and successfully alleviated conditions of injustice and oppression.

In the mid-1950s, the requirement in Montgomery, Alabama that black bus passengers surrender their seats to whites led to a year-long boycott of the city’s public buses. Desegregation of the buses followed. When I went to the south as a civil rights lawyer some 10 years later, those I worked with understood, as have historians since, that the movement for equality and justice in which they were then engaged had begun with the Montgomery bus boycott.

In the mid-60s, farmworkers organized a strike to protest the appalling working conditions in California’s grape-growing fields. Strike leaders appealed for support of a nationwide boycott of California table grapes.  Those who enlisted in what was known as “la causa” spoke not only of conditions in the fields, but hunger and poverty, discrimination against Mexican-Americans and Latinos, and the failure of labor laws to protect our most exploited workers.

At about the same time, opponents of the South African system of black oppression called apartheid began a campaign to persuade their supporters around the world to stop doing business with South Africa. Over the next 20-plus years, anti-apartheid activists organized an economic, cultural, and sports boycott of South Africa that the world came to understand as one of the 20th century’s signature battles for democratic rights.

What unites these great boycott movements is that each spoke with moral clarity on fundamental issues of equality and justice, and each grew out of an understanding that recourse to the ordinary mechanisms of government was unavailable. In my view, BDS is properly understood as a successor to those boycott movements.

The moral clarity of the BDS movement is hardly contestable. The enormous economic, physical, and emotional toll on the Palestinians exacted by the occupation has been repeatedly documented by every international agency that speaks to the issue. Within Israel – that is within the Green Line – Israeli civil rights agencies themselves describe a dual system of government services and benefits that is uniformly inferior for Palestinians compared to Jewish Israelis. In neither respect is there any serious argument that Palestinians are not gravely mistreated.

Notably, Clinton makes no such argument in her letter to Saban, saying only that the comparison to South Africa is unfair. But she knows, among other things, that Palestinians are forcibly removed from land on which Israel says they may not live and that there are roads in occupied territory on which West Bank Palestinians may not drive. Many, including anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, recognize it as apartheid.

She also says that the vindication of Palestinian rights, including the creation of a Palestinian state, should be left to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But if there ever was any doubt about the current Israeli government’s willingness to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state, it was laid to rest by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election vow never to accept a Palestinian state.

Clinton knows that. But in her run for the presidency, it does not seem to matter. Her letter boasts of her record in beating back reports and resolutions that criticize Israel’s human rights violations. Yet there may be a price to pay. Within the Democratic Party, a November 2014 poll shows that the idea of unconditional support for Israel is eroding, particularly among young and African-American and Latino voters. And in recent days, another poll, this one of the Democratic Party’s “opinion elite,” shows growing criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Even if there is no hope for Clinton, the growing grassroots opposition to Israel’s policies reflected in these polls is an encouraging sign. As we have learned from the boycott movements that preceded BDS, it is grassroots support that ultimately drives the success of every movement for freedom and equal rights.

Levine is a New York City civil rights lawyer who has represented social justice activists throughout his career.

From SJP to JVP to Open Hillel, the joint struggle is transforming the campus debate

April 16, 2015
PItzer_College_apartheid_wallPitzer College mock apartheid wall

by Donna Nevel on April 15, 2015

As someone who has participated in programs on a number of campuses and has a child in college, I have been inspired by the organizing taking place for justice in Palestine. My own organizing has been strengthened by what I have seen. Through Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Muslim Student Associations (MSA), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), organizing for justice in Palestine on campuses across the US has been thoughtful, principled and bold. Further, the movement to open Hillels to those voices supporting justice in Palestine has also been a positive development.

Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, the organizing has creatively highlighted and challenged Israel’s ongoing apartheid. It has opened up spaces for discussion and dialogue that college administrators and defenders of Israeli government policy have tried to shut down. Perhaps most importantly, student organizers have made important links and connections among different movements for justice. Just this past fall, SJP’s national conference, held at Tufts University, had as its theme, “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine.”

I spoke at two Boston campuses recently on Islamophobia and Israel, co-sponsored by the SJP and the MSA at Suffolk University and Tufts University. Yasmeen Hamdoun, one of the organizers of the event at Suffolk, told me why she organized such an event: “I believe the Islamophobic narrative is so pervasive, and people often don’t reflect about who is benefiting from this narrative and its repercussions. As a Muslim in America, I face the consequences of the misrepresentation of Muslims in the media through discrimination on a daily basis, but the Muslims overseas, such as the Palestinians, face it even harder. The Islamophobic propaganda campaign driven by the imperialist powers, such as the U.S. and Israel, dehumanizes Muslims overseas and thereby justifies violence against them.”

I most appreciated the discussions that followed the presentation. Students asked questions and made comments that reflected not just a commitment to the issues but genuine depth and critical analysis, and for many of them who were engaging with others on their campuses, clear thinking about how the information and discussion could support their organizing and build critical connections.

Tufts SJP member Leila N. spoke about these connections: “Within the SJP movement and the Palestine movement more generally, we’re seeing an increasing focus on joint struggle— the notion that all forms of oppression are interconnected and interdependent and therefore our resistance and struggle against them must also be connected. Encompassed within this commitment to joint struggle is the urgency to understand and engage issues of Islamophobia. As a group we are interested in exposing the impacts of state violence on Arabs and Muslims in the US, the Palestine movement, and around the world, as well as addressing our own complicity in this violence.”

At Pitzer College in California, students recently erected a mock apartheid wall. Before it was erected, the dean of students told them that the wall could be considered “discriminatory” and directed SJP to seek approval from the Campus Aesthetics Committee, which turned them down. SJP students made their voices heard and demanded their rights. They worked with lawyers from Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), who wrote a letter to the administration: “There was no basis for that advice, given that the Aesthetics Committee has no jurisdiction to consider the propriety of students exercising their right to political expression.”

After the administration informed them the wall would be in violation of campus policy, SJP, in a written statement, pointed out that the administration’s warnings went against the campus demonstration’s policy statement that Pitzer “respects the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly and supports their exercise.” In response to SJP being told a student had sent a complaint that the wall was anti-Semitic and would make Jewish students on campus uncomfortable, PSLS’s letter also made clear: “This is straightforward political speech focused on a critical examination of Israeli state policy. It is not criticism of Jews, Jewish students, or Israel as a “Jewish state,” but criticism of Israeli state policies towards Palestinians, which are the focus of international debate.”

The wall remained for four days without interference by the administration.

In addition to this organizing, the Open Hillel movement is gaining momentum across the country. As described by Naomi Dann, a staff member of JVP who participated in opening Hillel on her campus when she was a student at Vassar College, “Open Hillel is a campaign to pressure Hillel International to drop its ‘Standards of Partnership,’ which currently prohibit campus affiliates from partnering with or hosting individuals and groups who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Recently students at Guilford College in North Carolina began a process at their campus to become an Open Hillel. This will make them the fourth Open Hillel so far. Guilford students wrote in a public statement: “As an open Hillel, we believe that Jewish students should be supported in expressing their Jewish identity and values in the way that is most meaningful to them. … To be an open Hillel is to welcome all perspectives on Israel-Palestine.”

Guilford SJP student leader Walid Mosarsaa also pointed out that “Opening Guilford’s Hillel is necessary because there seemed to be a lot of conflation among Hillel members in specific, and on campus in general, that Jews have to support Israel and that Palestinians hate Jews, which we know is not the case. With an Open Hillel Palestinians and Jews who do not support Zionism will not feel discriminated against.”

While these student groups and activists are generating new ideas, they are also bringing in a host of older speakers who have been part of movements for justice in communities that have resisted oppression. Students are meeting with leaders and organizers from Palestine, indigenous leaders in the US, black civil rights activists, transnational feminists, and prison abolition activists, among others. In the Jewish community, Open Hillel has also highlighted and brought to their campuses Jewish civil rights workers from the ’60s who worked with SNCC and other groups in the South and are active on Palestine issues today. One of these activists, Dorothy Zellner, said that the Open Hillel movement is “a sign of things changing, and it’s because of these students. Students were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and these students are going to change [things] too.”

The power of the organizing among young people makes it no coincidence that campuses have been and are sites of repression. As they work to effect change, the students are fully aware the they are up against a typically well-funded opposition that focuses more on vitriol, name-calling and intimidation than on substantive debate. As a result of their activism on behalf of the Palestinian movement for justice and their efforts to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of human rights, many students are facing accusations of being anti-Semitic and creating “unsafe spaces” for Jewish students. This has also been true at a number of University of California campuses, where student organizing has resulted in successful efforts to pass resolutions that call upon their universities to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.

As in the case of Pitzer and elsewhere, one of the challenges student activists face is to demand that college administrations do not capitulate to those seeking to silence criticism of Israel, but rather resist such pressure by citing their colleges’ commitment to open inquiry and critical thinking. Right-wing Zionists can apply pressure, but it is the job of the institutions not to give credence to those who try to prevent voices for justice from being heard. It is hard to imagine any more fundamental obligation of a college administration than to stand up for their students’ rights in this regard against those who would like nothing more than to intimidate, silence or punish them. Academics on college campuses face many of these same challenges as well as others, and both students and academics—together with legal and other activists—have joined forces in their organizing.

From cultural resistance, campaigns to pressure their campuses to oppose apartheid, sit-ins and community programs and actions rooted in intersecting struggles, students across the country have joined one another and the broader movement for justice and dignity in transformative ways. The challenges are formidable, but so is their determination.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net

Reflections on a National Gathering of Jewish Peace and Justice Activists

March 20, 2015
by Donna Nevel          Huffington Post March 20, 2015

One of the things that I kept hearing this past weekend at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Membership Meeting (JVP NMM) was how people felt pushed in their thinking. Guided by the weekend’s theme — We’re not waiting — more than 600 people from across the country gathered both to envision the future and think concretely about how to be as meaningfully engaged as possible with the movement for justice in Palestine.

The weekend was intergenerational, inspirational, challenging, and, most significantly for me, had us all struggling with issues — from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and Assaults on Academic Freedom to Islamophobia and Challenging Militarization and Police Violence — in new ways and more intentionally recognizing and building upon the intersections among the various parts of our work and organizing.

Plenary sessions, which included JVP leaders along with deep thinkers and activists Sa’ed Adel Atshan, Reverend Dr. Heber M. Brown III, Amer Shurrab, Andrea Smith and others — helped lay the groundwork for the weekend. Amer Shurrab stated in the opening plenary, which was echoed by others throughout the weekend, that peace and justice required, quite simply and directly, equal rights for all. Reverend Brown, who had recently been to Palestine and Israel, spoke with tremendous passion about how to engage in our inter-connected work for justice: “It is important that struggles engage in deep listening and allow themselves to be transformed by each other.” Back and forth between theoretical analyses and concrete strategies for action, their words clearly resonated with an audience of energetic and committed people.

The Nakba and right of return were also centered throughout the weekend, with presentations by Basem Sbaih from Badil and Liat Rosenberg from Zochrot, which reflected a commitment to insuring that these foundational issues would not simply be an “add-on” to other discussions. Rosenberg stated with clarity: “The Nakba was not a one-time event in 1948; it is ongoing,” with further emphasis by Sbaih. “We have to be honest, this work is really hard. The displacement of Palestinians is ongoing today.”

People seemed anxious to learn more, to connect with others engaged in this work, and to deepen their own analysis that would help shape and inform their organizing.

I thought Andrea Smith’s thinking and analysis were transformative and helped lift us to a new level. She spoke of the struggles and challenges of Native peoples in this country — one that is ongoing — and about the importance of understanding colonization in all its manifestations. She also spoke about the importance of envisioning what is possible in new and expansive ways.

Well over 100 college students attended the meeting. I spent time with lovely, committed students from Guilford College and Pitzer College, all of whom are involved with SJP on their campuses. They are facing formidable challenges from those on their campuses who want to shut down their organizing and silence the position that supports justice for Palestine, but they will not be deterred. Responding to attacks from members of the local Jewish community and from Hillel that her college isn’t safe for Jewish students because they bring in pro-Palestine speakers like Steven Salaita, Guilford College student Sara Minsky recently wrote a letter explaining why she feels safe as a Jewish student at Guilford precisely because of its stated commitment to fostering critical, open discussion about Palestine/Israel.

JVP’s role in the broader movement was also interwoven into numbers of discussions. People spoke about how to be an effective and responsible and responsive partner in a Palestinian-led movement; to continue to grow and deepen its work in Jewish communities across the country; to be intentional and bold. At the final plenary, Angela Davis spoke about the importance of JVP’s leadership and the pivotal role of JVP in conjunction with movements against racism in the U.S., while also stressing the importance of leadership coming from communities of color.

The weekend was not without its tensions or differences. From quite different perspectives on the nature and reality of anti-Semitism today and whether it should be integrated into JVP’s work to those struggling with the specifics and actual meaning of the right of return and the articulated concept of dezionizing Israel, probing discussion and debate on these and other issues continued well after the sessions had ended.

The most powerful part of the meeting for me was what felt like a wide-spread recognition that all that was generated throughout the weekend would become part of the thinking, the strategizing, and the organizing after it ended. And that JVP is doing its work in concert with, and as part of a global movement for racial justice that truly spans from Ferguson to Palestine.

*I am a member of JVP’s board of directors.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-nevel/reflections-on-a-national_1_b_6907006.html

Support for Israel in the U.S. Jewish Community Continues to Erode

November 19, 2014

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark and Donna Nevel

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Since the inception of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century right on up to today, there have always been Jews who took issue with particular aspects of –or even the very idea of– a Jewish nation-state in historic Palestine. The recent Israeli bombardment of and incursion into Gaza – what Israel called “Operation Protective Edge” – saw a new surge in Jewish-American opposition to Israeli practices and policies. While this activism stands on a many-layered foundation of more than half-a-century of organizing in the US – especially from 1967 forward –it reveals some new and heartening trends.

These developments can be seen in stepped-up on-the-ground activism, the widening scope of the discourse around what is at issue, and even in the increasing cracks in the once-solid attitudes of liberal Zionists. All of these factors emerge, of course, within a wider U.S. (and indeed, international) movement and context.  Read more 


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