Category Archives: JCRC in the News

Today’s Boston Globe Letters to Editor: Disturbed by portrayal in editorial cartoon

Dear Friends,

Today's Boston Globe features a Letter to the Editor, co-signed with ADL New England, expressing that we are disturbed and offended by the anti-Semitic themes in Friday's cartoon. Here is the letter in full:

 

We were deeply disturbed and offended by Ward Sutton’s editorial cartoon in Friday’s edition of The Boston Globe (“Murder on the tax-cut express,” Opinion).

While the debate over the tax bill in Washington, including the role of political donors and private interests, is important, this cartoon promotes anti-Semitic themes.

The portrayal — singling out, among all the donors and interests who stand to benefit, a prominent Jewish individual, Sheldon Adelson; depicting him with an exaggerated hooked nose; linking him with money; and positioning him as hidden inside the train while others conduct — evokes classic anti-Semitic imagery and reinforces existing stereotypes.

At a time when hatred and bigotry of all forms are seeping into the mainstream, it is critical that the Globe and other responsible media outlets refrain from giving additional aid to those who no doubt will see this cartoon’s publication as further verification of long-established anti-Semitic views.

Robert O. Trestan, Regional director, Anti-Defamation League, New England region

Jeremy Burton, Executive director, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

I encourage you to read and share the letter, and welcome any comments you post on the Globe website.

Thank you,

Jeremy

Chilling Discriminatory Conduct

This piece was originally published in the July 24, 2017 edition of the Boston Globe.

Last week, Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would require those seeking to do business with the state to affirm that they are in compliance with all Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws and that they do not refuse to do business with others based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation. While opponents suggest that this bill would have a chilling effect on free speech, the only thing the bill would chill is discriminatory conduct.

The bill, called Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts, doesn’t affect an individual’s right to boycott a foreign state or to boycott a company based on its objectionable policies or actions. For example, individuals may protest the State of Israel or boycott companies operating in the West Bank while still enjoying the benefits of a state contract. This bill is applicable only when an individual categorically excludes another from a business opportunity based solely on who they are and what they cannot change. Targeting Israelis simply because they were born in Israel would fall into this category.

This bill also does not, as opponents suggest, shut down all boycott activity. It merely allows the state, when acting as a market participant, to choose business partners who are in line with its own values. While opponents of the bill are entitled to their own views and are free to engage in boycotts based on national origin, or race or sexual orientation, the state, when acting as a market participant, does not have to subsidize those views. The Commonwealth is free to use its economic influence to send a message of its own disagreement.

While proponents disagree with the characterizations of Israel being made by some opponents of this bill, we also vigorously defend their First Amendment right to express those opinions. Nothing in this bill would prevent them from doing so. They do not, however, have a right to force the state to agree with those opinions and to compel the state to subsidize boycotts that cross the line and target innocent bystanders for no reason other than their national origin. Instead, the Commonwealth can reach the same conclusion as Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and UN Secretary General António Guterres, who have all recognized that while Israel is not infallible, anti-Zionism, as distinct from criticism of Israel and her policies, must be taken seriously as a new form of anti-Semitism.

The so-called Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign, when applied to Israeli nationals based solely on national origin, is illustrative of the danger that groups can cloak themselves in the guise of a political boycott to unfairly target others simply based on who they are. Governor Baker, along with all 49 other governors last fall, signed a bipartisan letter opposing this campaign of economic warfare against Israel and pointing out that its “single-minded focus on the Jewish State raises serious questions about its motivations and intentions.” The Commonwealth is, therefore, well within its rights to put forth its own view that targeting an Israeli with no connection to the government of Israel and no ability to influence that state’s policy is going too far.

We are witnessing the danger of national-origin discrimination unfolding on the national stage, where our country is turning its back on immigrants and refugees solely because of their religion and nationality. The Jewish community has called for humane policies that inspire our nation’s enduring mission rather than engaging in collective punishment. We have not forgotten our history; we have not forgotten what happens when the powerful turn a blind eye; and we have not forgotten what happens when we stop seeing people as individuals, but rather as a collective other. This common-sense legislation is an incremental step forward in the fight against discrimination in all its many forms, and Massachusetts’ leaders should all be proud to stand behind it.

Jeremy Burton is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

Times of Israel: After the speech: investing in peacemaking

This article was originally published on the Times of Israel Blogs.

Since the U.S. abstention at the UN Security Council and the speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, much has been said about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I am among those who take issue with the U.S. approach this past week. Nonetheless, for those of us who share the belief that the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is through the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, we must ask ourselves: What are we able to do today, tomorrow, and in the near term to promote and expand the potential for this outcome?

As we begin 2017 – the year marking the 70th anniversary of the UN partition that envisioned two states for two people, and the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War that reunited Jerusalem and brought the West Bank under Israel’s control – the path to peace is long and difficult. While Secretary Kerry did not offer a meaningful way forward in this moment to help make a two-state solution achievable, there is in fact plenty of activity going on in here in Boston and in Israel that needs our support if coexistence and cooperation are to thrive in a manner that expands the potential for peace:

  • The Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET), created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set out to answer the question: “What if the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders had a history of working together, using innovative problem solving to make positive change in the Middle East?” They bring together young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs for education and empowerment. MEET is incubating and investing in a bi-national cohort of innovators to lead social change.
  • The Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand) schools are serving thousands of Jewish and Palestinian students in six Israeli cities, offering an alternative to the separate public school systems, thereby building a generation of students and parents who are committed to an environment of co-existence. Their work, including bilingual co-teaching from the earliest years, is paving the way toward a shared society for kids who are “learning together, living together.”
  • Our Generation Speaks (OGS), at Brandeis University, recognizes the deep frustration of both Israelis and Palestinians as extreme voices and opinions dominate public discourse. OGS is identifying change agents amongst youth who have not lost hope, and who want to build shared prosperity. Their high impact ventures are intended to inject optimism back into the public discourse and promote a more productive conversation regarding Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
  • Shorashim (Roots) is a grassroots joint movement in the West Bank focused on building trust and empathy between two peoples – Jews and Palestinians -currently living in that region. In just their first two years they’ve reached 13,000 people as they “endeavor to lay the groundwork for a reality in which future agreements between our governments can be built.”
  • The Peres Center For Peace, founded by Israel’s former President, of blessed memory, seeks to realize Shimon Peres’ vision for a prosperous Israel at peace with its neighbors. The Center builds economic partnerships to deepen mutual interests while encouraging cross border partnerships and interactions including agricultural projects, regional water initiatives, and technological entrepreneurship.

These examples are just a few of the many initiatives I have had the privilege to witness and experience at home in Boston or during my travels to Israel and Palestinian areas in recent years. There are many more efforts like these, each with a different focus, but a common purpose connecting them: The recognition that interaction, mutual understanding, and interdependence will support and strengthen peace when it comes, and that the potential for peace must be fostered by changing the lives of people today.

As concerned and engaged citizens we can, right now, build the foundation for a future of peace by expanding the social capital, the institutional strength, and the political space for these groups and others like them. Instead of demanding that the current political leadership negotiate in the absence of trust, we can support those who are making a difference today by building lasting relationships for accomplishing bigger dreams tomorrow.

We cannot afford to lose the hope and the possibility of a two-state solution. By supporting the vision of groups like these, we can become partners in fostering an atmosphere that will expand the potential for peace. There is no alternative.

May we bring peace in our time.

Times of Israel: Misguided Inaction Makes Peacemaking Even Harder

This article was originally published on the Times of Israel Blogs

There is one question I’ve been asked consistently this weekend: Why – given my own firm commitment to a two-state solution and my publicly expressed concerns about the coming administration’s views on this – would I so strongly reject and abhor the U.S. abstention this past Friday on UN Security Council Resolution 2334?

My disagreement with our government’s action, or lack thereof, on Friday rests in matters of policy, politics, and practical outcomes.

As a matter of policy it is true that the Obama administration’s opposition to Israel’s expansion of settlements is broadly consistent with US policy across administrations of both parties going back four decades. But this administration has pressed that opposition with a particular fervor that has been ill-placed. In 2009 the then-young administration sought and received from the Netanyahu government a ten-month freeze on construction, which the Prime Minister described as “a painful step that will encourage the peace process.” Then the Palestinian leadership once again failed their people through objections and foot-dragging (even approaching the Arab League to encourage a new invasion of Israel in 2010) thereby closing yet another window for negotiations. But still, our administration remained focused on settlements as a singular obstacle to resolving the conflict.

Many in our community have been broadly supportive of the Obama administration’s agenda in other areas. Still — even as U.S.-Israel security cooperation and aide are, today, at an all time high — I was hopeful that the next administration, of either party, would be more evenhanded in articulating the obstacles to peace. I hoped that the U.S. would vigorously address not only the actions of Israel’s government, but the failures of the Palestinian leadership: The incitement to violence and rewarding of ‘martyrs’ families; The continuous rejection in international venues of any Jewish legitimacy in our attachment to our ancient homeland; The rampant corruption and postponement of elections as the Palestinian Authority has failed at even the effort to develop a civil society in service to their people in areas under their own control.

Even in the focus on settlements the Obama administration and its allies have painted a too-broad and unproductive brush. Yes, some settlements threaten the contiguity of an envisioned Palestinian state. And every family that would need to be evacuated for peace is another traumatic and expensive task – as seen in Sinai and Gaza when Israel evacuated Israelis from those post-’67 areas in pursuit of peace. But not all areas over the Green Line are the same and the continued characterization in American and international rhetoric of them as being equal is unproductive. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Gilo, Gush Etzion, Ariel and Amona are very different places, with differing meaning for the Jewish people and differing impact on a future peace. The failure to address this complexity with nuance and differentiation makes the entire anti-settlement policy too readily dismissible, a caricature of oversimplification in one of the most complicated regions on earth (And the same ought be said for Israel’s government and those of us who are resolute in our commitment to this nation – we do a disservice by characterizing and defending all settlement expansion as equally valid and valuable for Israel’s future).

Politically, Friday’s action was a failure of leadership by the Obama administration, and a betrayal of its own legacy. For nearly eight years, this administration has vetoed biased and one-sided resolutions, including some very similar to this one. The 180 degree turnaround in policy – itself a rejection of a broad bipartisan consensus on the role of U.S. leadership in UN bodies – in a lame duck period, without any public advance communication of the intent, strikes many of us as motivated by something far lesser than strategic imperatives.

To judge by Ambassador Power’s own remarks after the vote, the administration knows that this resolution is unfair – thus the abstention. It comes in a body that has excelled only in its demonization of Israel above all other matters, thus making this action the fruit of a poisoned tree. That this action was ‘led’ by such exemplars of international human rights as Egypt and Venezuela only underscores the farce therein.

I appreciate that President Obama is deeply committed to advancing peace. But the way in which he has chosen to do so does no favors to the Israelis or Palestinians. The United Nations, with its biases and obsessions regarding Israel, is not the venue for advancing a solution. The failure to recognize Israel’s security concerns and legitimate connection to the land means that the resolution should not have passed. The failure to hold the Palestinian leadership explicitly and directly accountable for its role supporting terrorism will only encourage them to continue incitement and unilateral tactics.

The practical outcome of this action is that we are farther from achieving peace than we were on Friday morning. Palestinian leaders are talking of this as a launching pad for further international action against Israel, wrongly fueled by their sense that rejection and foot-dragging might actually serve their cause. Hamas is openly celebrating. Fatah is using bloody and violent imagery to thank the fourteen nations that voted for this. And in Israel, an enraged right is talking openly of annexation and pressing to take further actions to strengthen and expand settlements. Friday’s action has done nothing to move the parties closer and everything to exacerbate the conditions the next administration will face come January.

So where do we go from here?

For one thing, while we should not under-react, we don’t want to over-react either. Thoughtful analysts say that the resolution, of itself, doesn’t really change much, not least because it has no binding legal status in international law.

Further, much as I am dismayed, and even as I take note that President-elect Trump made clear his opposition to this action, we only have one government at a time and a lot can still happen in the next three weeks. Further, there have been many political leaders on both sides of the U.S. partisan divide who spoke out last week before and after the vote – and we need all of these people to stay with us in a bipartisan coalition of support for Israel’s future. Jewish activists wrongly calling President Obama an anti-Semite, or rapid and robust countermeasures by Israel, could very well have unintended consequences at a precarious moment. What is needed now is a calm and thoughtful approach; There will be time enough for reflection and lessons learned.

The path to peace seems longer and more difficult than it did just a week ago. Instead of fear and frustration, accusations and anger, the onus is on us to confront tirelessly the obstacles to peace. That UNSC Resolution 2334 is now yet another one of the obstacles to peace is itself a tarnish on the Obama legacy.

We must insist that the international community normalize relations with Israel and treat it with balance and respect. We must ensure that the strength of the U.S.-Israel bond remains a bipartisan commitment in this country. And we must never stop working, nor lose sight, or hope, for the realization of a two-state solution. The alternative is unacceptable.

Second anti-boycott bill in the works

The Jewish Advocate   March 2, 2016

By Brett M. Rhyne
Advocate staff

According to several sources close to Beacon Hill, legislators are preparing a second bill targeting companies that engage in boycotts of Israel.

“I know a bill is in the works,” said Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). She did not know who was crafting it, however.

Rep. Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk) introduced HD4156, “An Act relative to pension divestment from companies that boycott, divest, and sanction the State of Israel” to the House Rules Committee on Oct. 1, 2015. It has languished in the joint House-Senate Public Service committee since Oct. 31.

As previously reported by The Jewish Advocate, with the exception of Howitt, the bill’s main sponsor, there are no Jewish legislators among the 24 cosponsors of HD4156.

Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) suggested the reports of a second bill being crafted on Beacon Hill to address BDS might explain Jewish legislators’ hesitance to embrace HD4156.

“Most people are taking a wait-and-see approach,” she said. “They’re waiting to see the other bill before making a decision on which one to support.”

Creem, the assistant majority leader, said she did not know which legislators were working on the second bill or what its content would be.

“There are other people working on this,” she said. “It may be the same or different from the current bill, I don’t know.”

“They’re trying to work on it,” said Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline).

According to one Jewish legislator, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston is working with Howitt to revise his bill. The council frequently works with legislators on issues related to the Massachusetts Jewish community.

Howitt did not respond to an interview request before press time.

Council Executive Director Jeremy Burton declined to comment on HD4156, or whether the JCRC was working to amend Howitt’s bill or craft new legislation. He referred to a written statement issued Feb. 24, which notes the council supports “additional, binding, legislative action that would utilize the economic influence of our Commonwealth’s government to reject the BDS campaign.”

The statement makes it clear that the council has not yet endorsed any one bill. It notes, “We continue to work with our bipartisan legislative partners to identify and advance the best legislative approach that is appropriate for our Commonwealth.”

Ehrlich, who is Jewish, said she did not cosponsor HD4156 because, “Steve’s bill was sprung on us without much conversation. It was a late file, and so we had only a short time to look it over and decide if we wanted to cosponsor it.”

Ehrlich also compared HD4156 to a law passed in 2010, whereby the state divested all pension funds from companies doing business in Iran. The JCRC also worked to craft and ensure the passage of that legislation.

The Iran bill, Ehrlich said, outlined specific duties of the state treasurer. HD4156 did not do so, and relied on a non-governmental third party to determine which companies boycott Israel. She said she hoped a new bill would “give clearer direction to the treasurer.”

Ehrlich emphasized support for Israel is “overwhelmingly bipartisan,” thereby alluding to another reason why the JCRC and Jewish legislators might not want to embrace HD4156: partisan politics.

Howitt is the lone Jewish Republican in the Legislature. In this overwhelmingly Democratic body, a bill has a far greater chance – some would say its only chance – of becoming law if introduced by a Democrat.

This may explain why HD4156 has languished in the Joint Committee on Public Service – chaired by Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole) – since its arrival there Oct. 28.

Ehrlich noted according to Joint Rule 10, if the bill does not move by March 16, it is dead. It may have a better chance of passing during the next legislative session, in the fall, or even next January.

“It’s less than a year,” she said.

 

State Senate delegation to Israel takes on a challenge

OP-ED, The Jewish Advocate
By Stan Rosenberg
Massachusetts Senate President
 
“We want you to leave with more questions than answers.” That was the challenge posed to our group as we settled onto the tour bus, having just landed at Ben- Gurion Airport. An ostensibly odd objective for a ten day trip, promoted as a study tour and designed to give our delegation from the Massachusetts State Senate an in-depth look into the political, security, and economic challenges and successes facing Israeli society. For a group of legislators, in particular American legislators, who are usually tasked with finding the answers or solutions to questions, this was no modest ask. This challenge served as our first introduction to one of the central themes that would accompany our group throughout the trip; a request, really, for the group to take off its American glasses. To absorb what we would come to see and hear not through an American filter, an American perspective, but rather attempt the difficult undertaking of understanding the reality of a place from the people who live there.

This being my third visit to Israel over the past thirty year period, I was no stranger to the apparent complexities of this rich, beautiful country. But it was clear from the onset till the conclusion of the trip that the Jewish Community Relations Council, the tour’s sponsor, was strongly committed to its initial goal of constructively revealing the even deeper layers of this conflict. Through a diverse selection of speakers, organizations, and visits, we were given the opportunity to see and hear multiple perspectives of the same reality. The intricate nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were emotionally conveyed to the group by speakers like Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, who explained the frustrations of trying to govern her West Bank municipality that is largely bordered by Israeli controlled areas. Or Rami Nazzal, a Muslim Jerusalemite, who works in the West Bank as a New York Times contributor and painted a picture of a Palestinian society that is both struggling to survive in some corners while economically prospering in others.

We traveled to Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah, a community wedged against the security barrier near the Gaza strip, to hear from residents about the daily security challenges they face, like making the difficult choice to demolish half of their community playground in order to make space for yet another security room, commonly known to us as a bomb shelter. The group had a discussion with Colonel Benzi Gruber on the ethics and dilemmas of the battlefield, a gripping presentation on the extensive efforts made by the Israeli Defense Force to avoid collateral damage for humanitarian and ethical reasons, but also for strategic ones.
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Senator Rosenberg (center) and delegation at Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
Despite the often muddled depiction that we were presented, we were not lacking for moments of inspiration and hope for the future. We were encouraged by Professor Dalia Fadila, the first woman appointed president of an institution of higher education in Israel, about her efforts to empower Israeli Arabs, especially women, through education. We talked with the parents and administrators of the Yad BeYad (Hand in Hand) Bilingual school, who are dedicated to bringing together Jewish and Arab children in a positive and natural learning environment. Through conversations with LGBT advocates, like the Yerushalmim movement or the Aguda, we discussed how the Jewish population of Israel is hardly a monolithic entity itself and groups within are struggling for their own levels of equality and inclusivity. This diverse collection of voices, often delicately or sometimes intensely contrasting one another, led to a richly complicated tapestry of history, politics, culture, and religion.

However, through visits to start-up incubators and accelerators, meetings with venture capital firms, and conversations with students, entrepreneurs, and government officials, we did learn of an area of Israeli society where there was some consensus; the success of the start-up and high-tech industry. Many noted the unique historical and cultural characteristics of Israel as major contributing factors, from mandatory military service, to the sociological effects of Israel being a start-up itself. But of the causes that could be applied to strengthen our own robust start-up and hi-tech landscape, there was credit given to favorable tax policies attracting international companies, providing incentives for start-ups to establish themselves in desired locations, and promoting R&D focused initiatives. Great emphasis was also given to the need for growing fun, affordable cities that attract and retain the young, educated workforce. Both types of initiatives we continue to explore and implement here at home.

For a country similar in size to our own Commonwealth, to be competing on the international level in talent, technology, and innovation is nothing short of remarkable. This success has developed while searching for a balance between the need to ensure security for its people and an ongoing commitment to be a democratic, pluralistic nation. Ultimately the goal of our trip was not to solve a problem, or know the answers, but to gain a greater, more nuanced, and authentic understanding of a people, place, and culture. While not the most immediately satisfying of objectives, it was one certainly deserving for such a complex reality.

Stan Rosenberg is President of the Massachusetts State Senate.