Tag Archives: BDS

“Boston is different”

One of the more meaningful moments of my career in community relations, before I moved to Boston and in my early time here, was how often I was told that when it comes to Jewish communal life, “Boston is different.” As a newbie, I took that mantra and acknowledged it. I can’t say I always believed it.

I can tell you now about one way in which Boston is most certainly different in 2021: the way that we collaborate and network within our Jewish community.

A lot of attention has been given in recent months to divisions within our organized Jewish community, both nationally – in Pew findings that show increasing polarization and fracturing – and at the JCRC table, where we’ve debated, and will no doubt continue to debate, who gets to be here, and what is out of bounds. And it has been noted that in this, Boston is different, because of our uniquely ‘big table’ approach to a JCRC, which sometimes invites messy debates.

But when a city councilor in Cambridge chose to put an order on the agenda to single out and demonize Israel, I was privileged to be a part of a relational and collaborative community; in a way that I know does not always happen in other local Jewish communities.

During a meeting held on Shavuot – a sacred holiday that for many but not all of us precluded participation in the debate –  the lead sponsoring city councilor rejected the request, on behalf of Cambridge’s observant Jews, for a religious accommodation to participate in the debate at a later date. He asserted that the actions of a foreign state, Israel, absolved Cambridge of any obligation to accommodate its own citizens (a vile notion, to be clear). But another councilor, Patricia Nolan, invoked her right to table the action until after the holiday, specifically to accommodate that request for our community. We are all grateful to her, and to other councilors who would have also invoked that right, for continuing to respect and welcome the participation of observant Jews, and Jewish organizations, in Cambridge civic life.

During the week in between the first and second council meetings, Jewish communal organizations and activists came together for genuine collaboration – not only those mentioned in the various public statements this week, but grassroots communities and congregations in the city. Just one example: a powerful joint testimony by 250 residents that explicitly respected the council’s time by not adding another five hours to a seven-hour hearing. This would not have happened without collaboration from many different groups including Hillel students and Cambridge synagogues.

And after that second hearing, when the voices of hundreds of members of our community, along with our friends and partners, were heard – both in written and spoken testimony, we finally watched the Council debate. Councilor Nolan spoke passionately about her own connection to our community as a past board member of the Workers Circle – a member in good standing, to this day, of JCRC – as she, along with two former mayors, Marc McGovern, and Denise Simmons - presented the substitute order that was ultimately adopted.

I thought of all this when, at one gathering of tired and sleepless advocates this week (it has been a challenging few weeks for everyone) several of my colleagues spoke with passion about the collaboration here in Boston: “This is unique.” “This doesn’t happen everywhere.”

That’s true. I hear it from colleagues around the country all the time: disparate Jewish communal voices competing for credit, breaks of trust between the local offices of various agencies, criticizing one another to their shared donors, or separate coordinating coalitions trying to achieve the same local objective.

We here in Boston are in fact different. After all, our JCRC Council is literally the ONLY room in the country – either nationally and locally - where J Street, the Israeli-American Council, the ADL, AJC, New Israel Fund, the federation, and AIPAC, and so many others, all sit in one room together to hash out shared communal views.

And we are better for it. Yes, sometimes it gets messy. But it also invites a sense of shared community, and purpose, across our differences. What our community, and our country, need right now, are more people and more communities willing to work through the hard stuff together.

This week’s Torah reading has a passage in which God instructs Moses to make trumpets of silver to summon the congregation (edah) and cause the camps (mahanot) to journey. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z’l, has a wonderful essay on this passage – I encourage you to read it in full, it merits hours of conversation and study on its own – in which he discusses the concept of the edah, a community formed through shared projects and a vision for the common good.  “It comes into existence” he writes, “by internal decision. (A camp) is reactive, (an edah) is proactive.”

“Judaism in the past two centuries has fissured and fractured into different edot: Orthodox and Reform, religious and secular, and the many subdivisions that continue to atomise Jewish life into non-communicating sects and subcultures. Yet in times of crisis we are still capable of heeding the call of collective responsibility, knowing as we do that Jewish fate tends to be indivisible. No Jew, to paraphrase John Donne, is an island, entire of him- or herself. We are joined by the gossamer strands of collective memory, and these can sometimes lead us back to a sense of shared destiny.”

May the struggles of crisis this past month, and the example of our community here in Boston that still strives to be more than individual camps, one edah, be a source of inspiration and a catalyst to go forward and do the proactive work of “the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Anti-Israel BDS defeated in Cambridge

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Dear friends,

Last night, the Cambridge City Council overwhelmingly rejected an order that would have singled out Israel by boycotting city purchases of products made by Hewlett Packard, which also sells technology to Israel.

The decision came after more than seven hours of testimony on Monday night. Our community was mobilized and energized to push back against a one-sided narrative presented a week earlier, when the motion was first debated during the Shavuot holiday. After action alerts and social media blasts, more than 150 people argued live (on Zoom) against the measure, while an additional 250 Cambridge residents signed on to provide joint testimony that was read to the City Council. Our Jewish community — including CJP and JCRC volunteers, Israeli Americans, business leaders, interfaith leaders, and many others — ensured that Cambridge would not allow Israel to be delegitimized, marginalized, or maligned by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks Israel’s destruction.

As many speakers and City Council Members noted, the BDS battle pitted neighbor against neighbor and divided the Cambridge community. Instead of building bridges and creating understanding — the groundwork for peace — BDS “drives a wedge even deeper,” said Council Member Marc McGovern.

We thank the partners who have co-led this effort and worked tirelessly to call out anti-Israel hate and bigotry — the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Israeli American Council and StandWithUs — as well as the local organizations and congregations in Cambridge who mobilized their members. This was a collaborative effort and a powerful example of what we can achieve when we work together.

We also commend the members of the Cambridge City Council who tabled the discussion on Shavuot to accommodate the religious needs of some in our community, and who saw through this effort that sought to make Cambridge the first city in the United States to embrace virulently anti-Israel BDS.

The fight against the BDS movement has grown as its proponents have become bolder, more organized, and more sophisticated than ever before. It’s up to us to remain vigilant, to push back against Israel hate, and call out this divisive tactic whenever and wherever we see it.

We have tremendous work ahead — thank you for your support and partnership.

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JB

Rabbi Marc Baker

President and CEO, CJP

Jeremy Burton

Executive Director, JCRC

 

Emergency Action Alert

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Dear Friends –

We need your help and your voice to confront a one-sided effort to delegitimize Israel in Cambridge.

This coming Monday, May 24, at 5:30 p.m., the Cambridge City Council is expected to complete debate and vote on a BDS measure.

On Monday, as Jews commemorated Shavuot, the Cambridge City Council held a hearing that would order the city’s purchasing department to, “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard … over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East…to ensure that the city embody the values it put on paper.”

The proposal 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.

That this proposal is even considered in Cambridge brings up disturbing questions of why Israel – and no other nation in the world – is the target of sanctions and why a hearing, which could have been held any Monday night of the year, was debated during a Jewish holiday.

If you are a Cambridge resident, please consider submitting written testimony or being prepared to testify live during the virtual meeting (see details about testifying and suggested talking points here). If you’re not a resident, and have friends or business interests in the city, please forward this alert and urge them to speak out.

We hope you can make your voice heard and take a stand against BDS in Cambridge. Find more info and talking points here.

Instructions for Speaking at Cambridge City Council:

1. Starting tomorrow, May 21, at 9 a.m., you may register to speak by clicking this link. Instructions including the agenda numbers will be updated on this website as soon as the information is available.
2. Registration to speak closes on Monday, May 24 at 6 p.m. Please register in advance.
3. For more information on signing on to speak or to view the City Council meeting on May 24 at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom, click here.

Helpful Tips

  • You will be allowed only two minutes to speak. Time is strictly limited. You will be cut off by if you go over two minutes. Prepare your comments in advance to ensure that you adhere to the time limit.
  • Participation is by voice only; you will not be on video.
  • Make your comments personal and from the heart.
  • Do not spend too much time focusing on the situation in Israel. Focus on the issue in Cambridge and how it affects you, your business, your family, etc.

Action Items and Talking Points on Cambridge City Council (CCC) Resolution

Background

On May 17th the Cambridge City Council (CCC) held a hearing to advance a BDS initiative. Policy Order 2021 #109 directs the city manager to “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard Incorporated over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East.”  The target of this resolution is Israel. Here are things to know.

Take Action

  1. Cambridge Residents: In lieu of testifying, you can sign on to this letter detailing your opposition. The letter will be presented to the City Council during the meeting to demonstrate the strong opposition by Cambridge residents to this resolution.
  2. Encourage your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others in your network who are Cambridge residents to sign this letter by sharing this email with them.
  3. An individual may signup to speak before the Cambridge City Council via telephone to the City Council office on Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., or on-line via the City’s website, starting at 9:00 a.m. today.
  4. You can also submit written testimony to the entire City Council by way of email
  5. Please make sure to indicate when signing up or emailing that you are addressing POR 2021 #109 on the May 24th

Talking Points

1. The CCC Proceeded with the Hearing with Full Knowledge That Many Jews Would Be Excluded

The Cambridge City Council proceeded with a hearing on the resolution after having been notified, days in advance, that many interested parties would not be able to attend due to observance of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.   Councilor Zondervan communicated that he supported disenfranchising Jews in stating, “I appreciate that it is the Shavuot holiday, but last week it was Eid. That didn’t seem to prevent the Israeli government from bombing and evicting and terrorizing Palestinian people.”  We are grateful to Councilor Patricia Nolan, who stepped in to ensure that the actual vote would be deferred until Monday May 24th. We hope that others will speak to the apparent readiness to disenfranchise Jews.

2. The CCC Resolution is a Sham

According to the City of Cambridge’s assistant city manager for finance, it has been nearly seven (7) years since Cambridge has had a direct purchase order with Hewlett Packard. In other words, the resolution is addressing “a problem” that does not exist. It is a sham, whose only purpose is to demonize Israel.

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

There are hundreds of American companies that are working overseas and engaged in transactions that could be tied to questionable human rights practices. Examples include energy companies like Aramco in Saudi Arabia (persecution of religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community) and technology and consumer companies like Apple and Foxconn in China (child and slave labor).  Why is the CCC focused only on a company that does business with Israel? This focus on Israel betrays a deeper and concerning animus to the world’s only Jewish state.

4. CCC Proposes to Hold HP and Israel to a Standard It Does Not Apply to Cambridge Based Companies

If the CCC is intent on disassociating itself from companies that violate human rights then it need not trouble itself with events halfway around the world. A March 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, for example, cited 82 major corporations that have items in their supply chain created by Uyghur slave labor. Some of these are prominent tech and retail companies with large offices and stores in Cambridge (we are glad to provide additional information). Other companies with stores in Cambridge are selling merchandise from companies that reportedly have product made with Uyghur slave labor in their supply chain. Is the City of Cambridge concerned that it may be doing business with these companies?  Might the City of Cambridge be extending benefits to some of these companies? Have members of the CCC paused to ask these questions?

5. The Accusation that Israel Practices Apartheid is False and Malicious

Like with other BDS initiatives, the primary purpose for proceeding with Policy Order 2021 #109 is to advance false and malicious ideas that will serve to delegitimize Israel. BDS has been rejected by everyone from Joe Biden and Barak Obama to Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Kennedy, Jamal Bowman and governors from all 50 states.  Yet, proponents continue to try to advance their claims by cherry picking data to support extreme and unsubstantiated claims.  Here is what they will not tell you.

Israeli policies in the West Bank are primarily motivated by security concerns arising from the sustained violence that has resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands of Israelis.  These policies can be the subject of honest debate, but it is a false and malign distortion to suggest they are racially motivated, much less akin to apartheid.  Resolutions that advance such ideas distort the reality on the ground and provide cover to groups like Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group that rejects peace and co-existence with Israel on any terms. This is a dubious role for an American city.

6.  One Sided BDS Narratives Undermine Prospects for Peace

BDS initiatives, such as the one now under consideration, are deceptive and misleading. They spread false malign information about Israel, fuel polarization, and strengthen the hands of those who reject peaceful co-existence. In this time of heightened tensions, we might hope that elected leaders would seek ways to promote engagement and reconciliation.  The CCC, however, is contemplating a different path, one that will further inflame tensions and foster division. The vehicle for this is a resolution that ignores one side’s commitment to violence and its contempt for peace, while conveying a false view of the actions and views of the other. The losers of such hubris are always the Palestinians and Israelis, who hope for a new day where peace is possible. The City of Cambridge can be part of the solution or pour fuel on the fire. Which will it be?