BDS Resolution Blocked in Vermont

A Battle in Burlington

Let’s start in Vermont, the small state that’s dominated much of our U.S. coverage for the past couple months.

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) is the organization that kicked off the campaign targeting Ben & Jerry’s over a decade ago, but that’s certainly not the only issue they organize around. Recently they’ve been pushing a resolution supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Burlington. If passed it would become the first city to adopt such a measure. An activist who worked on the resolution told me that all the progressive members of Burlington’s city council were initially onboard and none of them had expressed concerns about the resolution’s language. However, things changed quickly.

This past Monday was supposed to be the day of the historic vote, but pro-Israel groups launched a coordinated effort to squash the resolution shortly before it came up. This effort was initiated by local organizations (like the Jewish Communities of Vermont) and national ones (like The Israeli-American Civic Action Network.) City council received thousands of emails making the usual charges about the BDS movement and antisemitism.

The resolution was also publicly opposed by Burlington’s mayor Miro Weinberger and rabbis from the city’s four synagogues. The rabbis wrote a letter to VT Digger expressing their concerns. “Why would Burlington support such a movement?,” it reads. “Why would Burlington choose to be the only city in the country that demonizes Israel?”

Opponents of the measure even made the preposterous claim that it was purposely being pushed during the Jewish High Holy Days, the phrase for the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, to exclude Jewish people from the debate. “We’ve seen it on college campuses for years and now it has become an accepted practice at the municipal level: proponents of anti-Israel resolutions schedule votes on Jewish holidays, or adopt a ‘surprise’ approach, where they devise plans in secret and the community only learns of their approach when the agenda becomes public,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told Jewish Insider. “Both tactics affirm what we already know: BDS is a concept rooted in antisemitism and one that typically prompts anti-Jewish sentiment.”

The council members were predictably spooked, including the resolution’s sponsor Ali Dieng. He sent the measure back to its original committee and told The Forward, “It needs further discussion and further input from the community. There are elements of this resolution that I feel like are a little bit strong, basically..I thought this resolution was not ready. People are really concerned this is going to bring more antisemitism and we don’t want that and now my eyes are open.”

Dieng also said he hopes to visit Israel now.

Activists who pushed the resolution say its return to the committee became preferable to a vote once the emails poured in. Since its city council supporters quickly flipped, it would have been killed and dismissed. One small silver lining is that it technically still exists right now.

“It was very disappointing to see those in influential positions stirring non-factual fears about the intent of the BDS movement in relation to Israel, while failing to address the legitimate implications of Israel’s policies and actions for Palestinian people,” VTJP member Ian Stokes told me. “Consequently, it was unclear whether many of the people who opposed the Resolution had actually read it in full, and whether they were aware of the stated aims of the BDS movement.”

Marc Estrin, a novelist living in Burlington, wrote to the local paper responding to the aforementioned rabbi letter:

That supporting Palestinian human rights should be the cause for “fear” in the Jewish community stands reality on its head. As a Jew, I am proud of Jewish calls for equality for Palestinians, and for Israel to end its many inhumane activities.

As for divisiveness, it is the rabbinical letter itself which amounts to a call to attack.

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the “Days of Awe,” are traditionally devoted to seeking forgiveness from those one has harmed over the previous year. Yom Kippur is a day of atonement for such behavior. No more perfect time to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Pro-Israel Crowd Likes Divestment Now

Ben & Jerry’s decision to pull its ice cream out of Israel’s illegal settlements continues to generate backlash. Earlier this month Arizona divested from its parent company Unilever and now New Jersey has done the same.

“No pension fund assets may be invested in the company, and DOI shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any existing pension fund investments,” said Shoaib Khan, the director of the New Jersey Division of Investment.

Khan says that the state worked with an independent consultant and determined that the move constituted a boycott of Israel. This is funny because the activists working on the issue readily point out that this isn’t example of BDS and that they’re still pushing for the company to embrace the movement entirely. Unilever also makes it clear that they don’t support a boycott, as do the actual Ben and Jerry.

NJ Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, who sponsored the state’s anti-BDS law, praised the development. “Our anti-BDS law was one of the first in the nation to use the power of state investment decisions to remove support for businesses that boycott Israel,” he said. “The announcement by Treasury that state investment will be prohibited in the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s following a review we requested pursuant to the law we enacted is yet another example that the process works as intended.”

There’s an important date to remember when you see stories like this: December 2022. Currently Unilever has until then to make a decision about future business in Israel/Palestine. They’re clearly being pressured by pro-Israel groups and lawmakers to eventually break. Will it work?

Odds & Ends

🇮🇱 At Jewish Currents Alex Kane reports that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Mark Pocan have submitted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would block the delivery of U.S.-made bombs to Israel. “We don’t expect the amendment to [survive]. We’ve been talking for months about AOC doing this, but it was always going to be a messaging opportunity, to bring attention to this issue,” an activist told Kane.

🇺🇸 This week CODEPINK activist Ariel Gold disrupted Jared Kushner’s remarks Abraham Accords Ceremony in DC. “No matter how many countries Israel normalizes relations with, peace will not happen until Palestinians are free,” she told the crowd. “There is nothing normal about two sets of laws for two groups of people. There is nothing normal about separate roads for Palestinians and Jews. There is nothing normal about apartheid.”

🇮🇱 Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been offered a spot on Oracle’s board by company founder Larry Ellison. Netanyahu denied the report.

🇺🇸 Ashraf W. Nubani has a thoughtful piece at Electronic Intifada about Sirhan Sirhan’s potential release.

🇺🇸  Jonathan Blake, a leading Reform rabbi connected to AIPAC, has called for limiting aid to Israel.

🎓 Students for Justice in Palestine’s Fordham chapter has been fighting to be recognized by the university for years now. There’s been a renewed campaign to bring attention to this. From a recent petition:

To make their case, Fordham’s administrators have sided with right-wing lobby groups’ punitive tactics aimed at silencing and intimidating students and academics advocating for Palestine. These lobby groups have defamed students, created McCarthyist-style blacklists, initiated lawsuits, made false & inflammatory accusations of support for terrorism, created astroturf organizations, and pressured universities to create bureaucratic barriers against any open criticism of Israel on campus. 

Despite all that’s stacked against them, Fordham’s SJP members persisted, and courts initially sided with students’ rights to organize for Palestinian rights. But the administration at Fordham wouldn’t let up — and they appealed the case. Now, the court has left the decision with Fordham administrators on whether or not to allow SJP at Fordham to continue.

🇺🇸 On September 20 Palestinian organizers and their allies will deliver a letter to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation:

In the wake of mass demonstrations, a group of Palestinian organizers and their allies came together to concretize the call to action coming out of Palestine. The group drafted a public sign-on letter, directed to Massachusetts elected officials to take immediate action to cut US complicity with Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime. The letter urges lawmakers to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and to end all aid to Israel, among other things. “It is in blatant disregard of Palestinian life” we write, “to reward the brutality of the Israeli military with surplus funds as it kills Palestinian civilians with impunity. Instead, we should be devoting tax payer dollars to building up communities of color at home and abroad.”

You can read (and sign) the letter online.

🇮🇱 Today is the 39th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which about 3,000 Palestinians were murdered. The majority of those killed were women and children. In 2012 Seth Anziska wrote about the United States’ connection in the New York Times, after uncovering previously unclassified documents about the slaughter:

The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of “terrorists” were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.

Of course the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (often referred to as the “Butcher of Beirut”) was Defense Minister at the time and an inquiry found that he bore personal responsibility for what happened.

George W. Bush referred to Sharon as a “man of peace” while he was alive and a “warrior for the ages” after he died. Biden eulogized him during an Israeli state memorial service. “He had a North Star from which he never deviated,” the current president told the crowd. “His North Star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided. May the bond between Israel and the United States never, ever be broken.”

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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