Tag Archives: BDS Movement

A Special Post Announcing A Decision Made by Our Council Last Night

Seventy-five years ago, in 1944, a group of Jewish organizations in Boston formed a coalition to confront threats to the Jewish community, including and specifically anti-Semitism. That coalition, JCRC, came to act as a representative voice of the organized Jewish community, and over time, its constituent organizations developed abiding principles and values that live on in our mission statement.

JCRC’s priorities and agenda have evolved over time but our principles have endured.

In our early years, support for a safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel meant working for the survival of a nascent state and supporting the early upbuilding as it absorbed Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews expelled from Arab countries. Today it calls us to defend the State of Israel from those seeking to delegitimize its very existence, while working with our Israeli and Palestinian partners in support of their efforts to achieve the full promise and inspiring vision embedded in the Israel declaration of statehood.

Our commitment to promote an American society that is democratic, pluralistic, and just was a call to action for a generation of post-War American Jews working to find their place in a country where neighborhoods and associations could still say “No Blacks, No Jews.” Today, we face other and real threats to the norms of our democracy, challenges to the credibility of the institutions that bind us together as a society, and the fraying of our national sense of shared purpose around an American creed.

Six months ago, a member organization of JCRC signed on to a statement organized by a self-identified Jewish organization aligned with the global BDS movement, a movement that denies the legitimate national aspiration of the Jewish people. That action triggered questions and concerns within our coalition, given our long-established view that support for BDS is contrary to our mission. Our Membership Committee began a process of discussion and dialogue with our member organization.

In the course of those conversations, that member organization questioned whether JCRC’s long abiding principles were not only operative, but also whether they were in fact the view of the Council as a collective (comprised of 43 member organizations, 29 community representatives, along with our Officers, Board of Directors, and past presidents), affirmed through its decision-making process. To ensure a transparent democratic process, last month the JCRC Membership Committee asked the Council to reaffirm and codify our view.

As JCRC does when we are at our best, we entered into a deliberative process across our network. We circulated draft resolutions and rationales to all of our member organizations, who then went through their various internal processes to determine their views, articulate changes they would seek, and guide their votes on a final, codified view. Member organizations lobbied each other and community representatives on the Council. Caucuses came together around various specific issues and wording. Alternative motions were circulated and re-drafts were shared.

Last night, the Council came together at its regular meeting to hear the report of the Membership Committee and to make a decision.

The debate was tinged with sadness and humility.

Sadness that, in their frustration and anger with the government of Israel, some Jews would choose to hold the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; to act from an ahistorical ideology; to be part of organizations that lend credence to noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community.

Sadness that at the end of this JCRC process we may ultimately separate from a venerable organization, the Boston Workmen’s Circle (BWC), a founder of our coalition and a home for many Jews in Boston who have no other Jewish space that resonates for them.

Humility that our actions have consequences. We are clear that we are mandated only to define the compacts that bind this coalition together, and not to define who is a Jew or who should be excluded from the broader Jewish community. Even so, our hearts are heavy in the knowledge that the steps we take may be read by others as rejection of them as individuals and Jews; not just of an ideology that is counter to our mission.

Humility that we must do more to create spaces and pathways to action for those in our community who are disappointed and dismayed by the actions of Israel’s government. Pathways that connect them to Israelis and Palestinians who share their hopes and sense of urgency, without denying the legitimacy of our people’s national aspirations.

Our debate was held in the spirit of argument for the sake of heaven, with the understanding that good people who share a commitment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state can and often do have different ideas about that future and how to achieve it. It was a debate in the spirit of the houses of Hillel and Shammai as recorded in the Talmud, two vigorously dissonant views on issues fundamental to the codification of rabbinic Judaism but who, at the end of each debate, went home inextricably linked to each other as one community.

And then, finally, by a vote of 62 ayes and 13 nays, with 8 abstentions, our Council resolved:

That no member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by – a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist;

such action is not compatible with, and is in conflict with, JCRC’s mission, and could be grounds for removal from the JCRC upon the determination of and through the procedures of this Council and its bylaws.

While our dialogue with BWC will continue in the coming weeks, we took an important step in clarifying who we are as a coalition, and what boundaries define this coalition in advancing JCRC’s mission. We did so through our process of deliberative and representative democracy on behalf of our organized Jewish community; a process that we rely on to form our principles and our policies; a process that is the foundation of the legitimacy to do public advocacy and community relations on behalf of this coalition. And we move forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC is Deeply Disappointed by Decision to Refer S.1689/H.1685 “To Study”

JCRC is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Massachusetts Legislature’s State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (SARO) Committee to refer S.1689/H.1685 “to study.” This bipartisan legislation, An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts, is intended to ensure that those seeking to do business with the state affirm that they are in compliance with all Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws and that they do not refuse to do business with others based on immutable characteristics such as race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Much of the debate around this bill has taken place in the shadow of a national and state-by-state debate over so-called “anti-BDS” bills. Such bills are a vehicle for states to reject efforts to deny Israel’s right to exist. This noxious campaign uses economic, cultural, and academic warfare in an attempt to isolate Israelis and challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Even as JCRC supports efforts to reject the unjust assault on Israel’s legitimacy, we take note and emphasize again that the bill, as filed here in Massachusetts, does not shut down all boycott activity. Still, we understand from our allies that the national debate on this matter, along with a recent federal court ruling in Kansas, has had a chilling effect on the ability of people here in Massachusetts to consider this bill based on its face-value merits and impact.

S.1689/H.1685 merely allows the state 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, 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. The so-called Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign, when applied to Israeli nationals based solely on their 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.

We take note that only days ago New York Governor Cuomo announced an executive order, largely paralleling the language of the Massachusetts bill, to prevent New York state from doing business with companies that promote or tolerate discrimination based on immutable characteristics. That order was embraced by many of the same actors who have opposed the Massachusetts bill. It does not escape our attention that some of the same people who vigorously urge government action to protect individuals based on immutable characteristics when those individuals are transgender (a view that we affirmatively support) are so vigorously opposed to the same action when some of those - such as us - promoting it are expressly concerned about discrimination against Israeli-Americans. We are left, once again, to wonder why an incremental step to fight discrimination in all its forms should draw such vociferous opposition by some on the radical fringe here in our Commonwealth.

Over the past two years, legislatures around the country and the world have taken up a range of approaches for rejecting BDS and those who wish to engage in discriminatory economic warfare against Israelis and Israeli-Americans.  JCRC again applauds the Massachusetts legislature for their unanimous expression, in October 2015, for the U.S.-Israel relationship and also for their rejection at that time of this campaign of delegitimization. That action, along with numerous others over the past several years, convey a clear message of support from our legislative leadership and reflects a deep bipartisan coalition in both houses. Our legislators have stated with one voice that effective engagement is the key to positive outcomes in the region.

At this time we want to particularly thank Senator Cynthia Creem and Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt for their leadership in sponsoring S.1689/H.1685, as well as Senate Committee Chairman Walter Timilty, the many co-sponsors including nearly one-third of the legislature, and the members of the coalition in support of this bill. Despite the noise and the mischaracterizations, these individuals stood steadfast in support of the notion that the Commonwealth should reject discriminatory conduct in all its forms. To them, we are grateful.

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JCRC Statement on Roger Waters concerts in Boston

Roger Waters, lead singer and co-founder of Pink Floyd, is coming to Boston as part of 20-city North American tour. He will be performing here on September 27th and 28th, just prior to Yom Kippur.

In addition to his music, Waters is known for political activism and has been a vocal supporter of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to isolate Israel in the international community. Waters has made many harsh accusations against Israel and has publicly called on other artists and musicians to support BDS. This summer, he engaged in a public argument with the band Radiohead and encouraged them to cancel a scheduled concert in Tel Aviv. Despite Waters' pressure, Radiohead went forward with their concert.

While we encourage discussion and debate about Israeli and Palestinian policies, we reject conduct and language that demonizes, delegitimizes, or challenges Israel’s right to exist.

Waters has regularly violated the terms of constructive dialogue, delegitimizing Israel by:

  1. Actively seeking to undermine recognition of the Jewish people to self-determination;
  2. Denying Israel the right of self-defense possessed by every other nation;
  3. Equating contemporary Israeli policies with those of the Nazis, a comparison that has been defined as anti-Semitic by the U.S. State Department;
  4. Characterizing Israel as an apartheid state;
  5. Advocating boycotts of Israeli goods, academic, or cultural activities intended as punitive measures against Israel;
  6. Singling out Israel for international sanction that asks Israel to behave in ways not asked of other nations;
  7. Employing long-standing anti-Jewish motifs, such as those that assert Jewish control or conspiracy to control financial institutions, media, or government.

It is clear that BDS is a failed tactic because it complicates the peace process by focusing the blame on one party and ignoring incitement and violence perpetuated by some Palestinians against Israelis. While music and the arts can be used as tools to promote mutual recognition and understanding, Waters has instead decided to use his platform to promote divisiveness and Israeli isolation. The only way to reach a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is through the two-state solution, directly negotiated by the two parties. This goal has long been supported by the American and Israeli governments and the Palestinian Authority. The BDS movement offers no constructive path to peace, instead attempting to make Israelis feel so isolated and under so much pressure that they will demand an end to the occupation without regard for valid security concerns. This only makes negotiation between the parties more difficult.

Rather than undertaking actions that isolate and assign blame to only one side in a complex conflict, we who live outside of Israel should engage in processes that help create conditions conducive to the two-state solution. We must support Israelis and Palestinians building co-existence and mutual recognition through people-to-people initiatives, urge both parties to refrain from behaviors that move us farther from a just and lasting peace, and ultimately encourage the parties to resume direct negotiations leading to a comprehensive end of conflict agreement. We hope that when Waters appears in Boston he will focus on his music instead of attacking Israel and its supporters.

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.

It’s Time To Say: #NoHateInTheBayState

This Tuesday, July 18th, the Massachusetts legislature will conduct a public hearing on a bipartisan bill S.1689/H.1685: An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts. Filed by Senator Cynthia Creem, Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt this bill is being sponsored by over one-third of the members of the legislature. We at JCRC are proud to be leading a broad coalition in support of this bill.

Some on the far-left who work to demonize Israel and who seek to boycott everything and everyone connected with her are mobilizing a vociferous opposition to this legislation. They claim that this bill, if adopted, would restrict their right to freedom of expression, including boycotting Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here is what the bill would actually do. S.1689/H.1685 requires anyone seeking to do business with the Commonwealth to affirm that they are in compliance with the state’s anti-discrimination laws. In other words, that they do not refuse to employ, serve, or rent to people based on their immutable characteristics – including nationality. It also requires that these contractors affirm that they will not categorically refuse to do business with someone based on those same characteristics – including nationality.

Basically if your business boycotts the government of China because of human rights abuses in its prisons, you can still do business with the Commonwealth. What you cannot do is refuse to do business with someone because they are a Chinese national – and still do business with the government of our Commonwealth.

Nothing in this legislation denies or restricts an individual’s right to boycott a foreign government or to participate in a political or social movement. What it does is say that when participation in a political boycott crosses the line and starts targeting individuals based on who they are and what they cannot change, our Commonwealth will utilize its procurement power to make its own view known: Discrimination, by any name and in all its many forms and window dressings, is abhorrent and antithetical to the policy of our state and will not be subsidized with taxpayer funds.  That opponents of this bill are so vociferous in their opposition tells you something. They aren’t defending their right to protest the Occupation. They aren’t even defending their right to engage in economic warfare against Israel and to deny Israel’s right to exist.

No. This time they are fighting for the right to discriminate against Israelis.

Massachusetts’ civic leaders, and JCRC’s network alongside them, have boldly led the nation in rejecting bias and bigotry in so many areas in recent years – standing up for the transgender community, for women, for the disabled, and for immigrants. Now they have a responsibility to reject this kind of discrimination as well.

Because I have the privilege of taking legislators, including nearly one-third of the current members, on study tours to Israel – a privilege that is not available to lobbyists – I will not be testifying on Tuesday in support of this bill. But JCRC has endorsed S.1689/H.1685 and members of our leadership will be testifying in support. And I will be there for the hearing as leaders from across our network, along with our allies within and beyond the Jewish community, come together and urge the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight to favorably report this bill to the full Legislature.

In October 2015 our Legislature strongly demonstrated their commitment to the Massachusetts-Israel relationship and rejected the movement to isolate and demonize Israel when they unanimously approved a resolution, sponsored by Senator Michael Moore and Representative Jeff Roy, to underscore the depth of connection between the Commonwealth and Israel.  Now, we are asking them to demonstrate their commitment to preventing discrimination against Israelis who seek to do business with our Commonwealth, and who ought to be valued and supported as part of the fabric of our civil society.

We hope that you will join us in this effort by attending the hearing this coming Tuesday and filling out the action alert urging the Committee to favorably report the bill out of committee.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

We Stand Together Against Discrimination

Boston, MA (January 25, 2017) – Today, An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts was filed by sponsors Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham) and Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk) in a bipartisan effort to prohibit discrimination in state contracts system of Massachusetts.

“This bill harnesses the economic influence of our state to strengthen existing anti-discrimination laws and ensure that the state does not unwittingly use tax payer funds to subsidize discriminatory conduct,” said JCRC Director of Government Affairs Aaron Agulnek. “It would also require anyone applying for a state contract to certify that they are in compliance with Massachusetts laws prohibiting discrimination and that they will not discriminate against another in the business context based on the targeted individual’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“After meeting with parties on all sides of this issue, I am filing this bill which simply prevents the state from contracting with parties who fail to affirm that they will abide by the state’s anti-discrimination laws – including those that prevent discrimination based on national origin” said Senator Cynthia Creem (D. Newton).  “I believe this bipartisan legislation protects individual rights, while also sending a strong message that Massachusetts will not do business with those engaging in discrimination.”

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in support of this legislation that prevents discrimination in state contracts,” said Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham). “This important and meaningful legislation will move our economy forward while preventing further discrimination based on divisive labels that have no bearing on business in the Commonwealth.”

“This is a proud moment where the legislature can stand together in support of Israel” said Representative Steven Howitt. “This bill clarifies to businesses that either support BDS or who boycott Israeli-owned businesses and products that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not engage in commerce with them. I look forward to its quick passage.”

This consensus bill has garnered wide support representing a broad consensus of Jewish communal organizations.

Under this law, BDS boycotts targeting Israeli business owners based solely on national origin would be considered discrimination. Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Executive Director, Andrea Levin said: "We strongly commend this important bipartisan bill that underscores Massachusetts will act against discriminatory treatment of Israel. We're proud that our state joins others in this vital national effort."  The proposed legislation supports the Commonwealth’s historic commitment to fighting discrimination and ensures that those engaging in discriminatory conduct will not reap the benefit of a state contract.

“J Street welcomes legislation under consideration by the Massachusetts state legislature designed to prohibit the state government from contracting with businesses that engage in discriminatory boycotts on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation” said J Street New England Regional Director, Shaina Wasserman. “We believe that it is important to stand up against discrimination in all its forms, including, of course, anti-Semitism and discrimination against Israelis.

Anti-Defamation League Regional Director, Robert O. Trestan, added:

“This legislation recognizes and rejects the insidious and destructive nature of BDS campaigns. We hope this legislative initiative will serve as an important catalyst that eliminates discrimination when it comes to doing business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The legislation recognizes the strength of the Massachusetts-Israel economic partnership and assures both Israeli and Massachusetts businesses owners, entrepreneurs and investors that the Commonwealth is truly open for businesses.

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Update on MA Anti-Economic Warfare (BDS) Legislation

JCRC would like to thank Representative McMurtry and Senator Creem for sponsoring anti-BDS amendments to the House and Senate versions of the Economic Development Bill (H. 4413 and S. 2432) this session. Although both amendments were ultimately withdrawn in recent days, we thank them for their strong support for our community and for Israel.

In withdrawing their amendments, it was very clear that the reasons were in the interest of time, and not substance, given upcoming recesses and the need to fully brief their colleagues. Sponsors of the amendments, and JCRC, firmly believe that this language puts in place a standard to ensure that the state does not subsidize discriminatory businesses that passes free speech review. This language was passed in South Carolina and Rhode Island and another nine states passed similar legislation. We plan to take up the issue again next session and expect that when there is time to more fully brief the membership, it will also be passed in MA.

We believe that when we band together to demonstrate our support for Israel next session, this important legislation will be passed in Massachusetts as a similar resolution passed with unanimous support earlier this session.

 

JCRC Statement Supporting Legislative Action Rejecting Economic Warfare Against Israel

The Jewish Community Relations Council supports the Israelis and the Palestinians in their pursuit of a better future. We share the belief that the only way to achieve a lasting peace includes a two-state resolution, where two peoples can live together side by side, each with a state of their own in a shared homeland.

In recent years we have seen a growing campaign to deny Israel’s right to exist. This campaign uses economic, cultural and academic warfare in an effort to isolate Israelis and challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Blaming only one side for the conflict by using boycotts, divestment, and sanctions – collectively referred to as the “BDS movement” – only diminishes the prospect for peace. If these efforts are successful in isolating Israelis, they will further fuel terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah in their efforts to destroy Israel.

The organized Jewish community of greater Boston is united in our rejection of the global BDS movement and its goal of isolating and delegitimizing the State of Israel. We support a broad range of efforts including legislative action that encourages companies to reject the pressure from those who engage in economic warfare against Israelis.

In recent months, legislatures around the country and the world have taken up a range of approaches for rejecting BDS. JCRC again applauds the Massachusetts legislature for their unanimous expression of support last October for the U.S.-Israel relationship and for their rejection of this campaign of delegitimization. This action, along with numerous others over the past several years convey a clear message of support from our legislative leadership and reflects a deep bipartisan coalition in both houses. Our legislators have stated with one voice that effective engagement is the key to positive outcomes in the region.

JCRC supports additional, binding, legislative action that would utilize the economic influence of our Commonwealth’s government to reject the BDS campaign. There are several options and approaches for doing this and JCRC has not – at this time - endorsed any one bill or approach. We continue to work with our bipartisan legislative partners to identify and advance the best legislative approach that is appropriate for our Commonwealth.

Peace is paved through diplomacy and discussion, not through isolation and expansion of the conflict. JCRC will continue to work to promote peace, reject BDS, and encourage the efforts of our political leadership to be strong and steadfast in their support for a better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people.

JCRC Applauds MA Legislature for Unanimous Support of US-Israel Ties, Rejecting Delegitimization

JCRC applauds the unanimous passage of a resolution supporting the Massachusetts/Israel relationship and rejecting efforts to isolate and target Israel. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Michael Moore and Representative Jeff Roy, passed unanimously underscoring the depth of the connection between the Commonwealth and Israel. 

“We applaud the Massachusetts legislature for unanimously passing this resolution and furthering efforts to strengthen the ties between Massachusetts and Israel, through economic, cultural and social partnerships”, said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “We thank the leadership, sponsors and the numerous bipartisan co-sponsors who stated with one voice that effective engagement is the key to meaningful and deep relationships.”

“The connection between Massachusetts and Israel offers tremendous opportunities for both partners, and this resolution reaffirms our commitment to a productive and harmonious relationship” said Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury). “By highlighting the economic, cultural, and academic benefits of this partnership, and rejecting demonization, Massachusetts ensures future cooperation will not be impaired by unnecessary divisiveness.”

"I have witnessed firsthand the incredible results of collaboration between Massachusetts and the State of Israel," said Representative Jeffrey N. Roy (D-Franklin). “This formal resolution from the Legislature will serve to reiterate and remind us of this longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship. And we look forward to renewed and new efforts to work together to strengthen that partnership.”