Tag Archives: discrimination

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