A Shameless Undemocratic Abdication to the Global BDS Movement? 
Comprehensive Talking Points 

On April 23rd, the Cambridge Massachusetts City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution that calls for a boycott of Hewlett Packard (HP). We have been advised that the justification for this measure is HP’s alleged support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. This initiative is part of a larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that is, in significant part and in their own words, dedicated to Israel’s destruction. To this end, the BDS movement has been advancing a wide range of proposals that are designed to wage an economic and cultural war against Israel in order to isolate, delegitimize and gradually undermine Israel. BDS initiatives have been rejected by national and Massachusetts leaders, including Barack ObamaBernie SandersKeith Ellison, Cory BookerJohn Kerry, Ed MarkeyElizabeth WarrenMichael CapuanoJoe Kennedy, Deval Patrick and scores more prominent national leaders, including governors of all 50 states. The Cambridge City Council’s review of this resolution raises several disturbing questions, some of which concern the Council itself. 

 1. The Cambridge City Council is Cynically and Irresponsibly Avoiding Open Public Debate 

The proposed boycott of HP is being led by a group called Mass Against HP (MAHP).  It is a front for explicitly pro-BDS organizations and activists, and a member of the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition. According to informed sources, members of the Cambridge City Council have been in private conversation with MAHP for months about their resolution, but at the request of MAHP have not shared it with the public. In fact, even when asked by Cambridge residents, members of the City Council have refused to share it. Instead, per the rules of the Cambridge Council, they intend to release it only two to three business days before the actual hearing on April 23rd.  One might not be surprised that MAHP would want to skirt due process and common democratic practices.  It is another matter entirely that the Cambridge City Council would collaborate with an outside interest group to suppress open debate regarding an issue they intend to consider. At a time when democracy is being challenged around the world, it is disheartening to see the Cambridge City Council become an agent of such undemocratic practices.

2. The Cambridge City Council Has Abdicated Its Responsibility to Govern to an Outside Interest Group  

Cambridge City Council members have been meeting privately with MAHP about a resolution that they will not make public.  The resolution reportedly makes inflammatory claims about HP and the actions of the Israeli government.  Some members of the City Council have made no known effort to contact HP or members of the Jewish community, the Israeli Consulate, leaders of well-known Jewish organizations or other prominent sources of information to assess MAHP’s claims.  Instead, they have collaborated to introduce a highly politicized resolution from an organization with a clear anti-Israel agenda without even a cursory effort to assess the veracity of the claims that are reportedly being made.  At the very least, one would expect the Cambridge City Council to invite serious inquiry before accepting the claims of a single organization.  It appears that the Council is coming dangerously closely to undermining the processes that it is sworn to protect.  

A review of MAHP’s website demonstrates beyond question that it is an organization that readily bends facts to support its claims. If the Cambridge City Council were interested in an open and unbiased inquiry before considering MAHP’s inflammatory measure, here are a few things they would learn. 

A. HPE contracts that may be referenced by MAHP are now handled by a spinoff of HPE called DXC, over which HPE has no direct control. This is information that could be relevant to a consideration of a boycott against HP.

B. The allegation that Israel is involved in a wanton occupation of Palestinian lands is a malicious and untrue characterization of a complex historical problem. Here are a few more things they also did not tell you:

C. MAHP’s truth problems do not stop there. Claims that Israel has implemented a program of apartheid policies are equally specious.   

3. Singling Out Israel and Holding It to a Unique Ethical Standard Would Raise Troubling Questions  

Even were we to assume (and we don’t) that everything Israel’s detractors say is true, why would the Cambridge City Council choose to single out HP and Israel? There are literally thousands of American companies that are working overseas and engaged in transactions that could be tied to questionable human rights practices. Energy companies like Aramco in Saudi Arabia (persecution of religious minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ community); technology and consumer companies like Apple and Foxconn with China (child and slave labor); US corporations and investors providing major investment in Duterte’s Philippines (extrajudicial killings, children’s rights violations, attacks on journalists, human trafficking); destruction of indigenous habitats in Brazil by international and U.S. mining and farming interests. This list could fill pages, including numerous companies with Cambridge contacts.  

It would be one thing if the Cambridge City Council elected to adopt a foreign policy that it applied without prejudice to nations and companies around the world.  In this instance, however, it is overlooking scores of other situations far more troubling than the worst accusations made against Israel and electing to support dubious and largely unexamined claims made by an outside organization.  The circumstances invite troubling speculation as to why Israel is being held to an ethical standard that the Cambridge City Council holds to no others, including itself.   

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explains, “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

4. The Cambridge City Council Would Hold Israel to a Standard That It Does Not Apply to Itself  

On September 11, 2017, the Cambridge City Council issued a policy order declaring that “the City of Cambridge and the City of Dongguan [China] would mutually benefit from promoting contact between our governments, non-profits, business and research and educational institutions….”  It turns out that even a cursory investigation would have revealed that Dongguan is a toy manufacturing center that has produced toys for Disney, Mattel and others in factories that, according to China Labor Watch, allow a wide range of labor rights violations. These have included mandatory overtime, wages below the legal minimum, unpaid overtime wages, unpaid insurance, harsh and high-pressure working conditions, poor living conditions, and abusive management. But, the Cambridge City Council said nothing about this in its policy order. It ignored well documented human rights concerns, welcomed a special relationship and to date has not proposed a boycott of products made in Dongguan factories, which may find their way into Cambridge Schools and elsewhere. Regrettably, there are other examples of the City Council’s moral myopia. And together these situations deepen the question as to why Israel alone is to be singled out by the Cambridge City Council without even a modest effort to understand the underlying issues or protect fundamental due process. 

 5. One Sided BDS Narratives Undermine Prospects for Peace  

BDS initiatives, such as MAHP’s proposed resolution, are deceptive and dishonest, but they also fuel polarization and strengthen the hands of those who reject co-existence.  This is why national leaders from the left, center and right have firmly rejected BDS. There are many people of goodwill who are working to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians. BDS resolutions like the one under consideration contribute to polarization, not peace.  They undermine those who are seeking to build bridges and empower those who reject co-existence.  They are warfare by another means. Yet, members of the City Council have taken it upon themselves to hear this resolution and collaborate with the BDS organization that is proposing it.  This should be a source of deep concern to all who prize our democracy. 

6. Conclusion  

Mass Against HP has not been candid with the Cambridge City Council, but who can blame them?  They are an interest group that is fully integrated into the global BDS movement and are pursuing this movement’s objectives. If Cambridge officials entrusted with protecting the public interest don’t care to question  MAHP’s claims and then undermine public processes that could invite such inquiry, that is not MAHP’s problem.  But, it is a problem for all people who are committed to open and accountable government. It is a problem for those who entrust their elected officials to undertake a fair and unbiased exploration of information before enacting public policy. And, it is a problem for all fair-minded people who will legitimately question why the City Council is singling out one country and one company and holding them to standards that it does not even apply to itself.