Activists block New Jersey town’s anti-BDS resolution

Activists are fighting legal attempts to criminalize the BDS campaign. (Kate Ausburn)

Human rights activists in the New Jersey town of Maplewood helped defeat a local resolution that would have condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign that aims to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian rights.

The anti-BDS measure was introduced to the town council in mid-November by representatives of Hadassah and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

These Israel advocacy groups had successfully lobbied other nearby towns to adopt similar resolutions.

New Jersey itself is one of more than 20 states which has passed an anti-BDS measure.

There is also federal legislation pending in Congress.

Local resolutions peddled by the touring Israel advocates have smeared BDS campaigners as singling out Israel, hindering “Jewish self-determination” and espousing “anti-Semitic” rhetoric.

They call on the municipal governments to condemn efforts to “delegitimize the state of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from and sanction its government and people.”

As soon as activists heard that the resolution was on its way to Maplewood, they contacted town officials to urge opposition to the measure. The also made plans to speak at a town council meeting in early December.

“We drafted a statement to be read at that meeting, a statement in support of BDS” as well as a direct counter to the proposal’s claims that Israel is a democratic state, local resident David Letwin, an activist with Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, told The Electronic Intifada.

“At a bare minimum, there needed to be a full and open discussion about the issues raised by this resolution before there could be any talk of it being taken to a vote,” Letwin added.

Activists talked to friends and neighbors, and realized there was a lot of support for efforts countering the anti-BDS proposal, said Maplewood resident John Gordon, a member of Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition.

“We said it’s not going to happen here and we’re going to put up some resistance to this,” Gordon recalled.

During the December meeting’s public comment period, Gordon read the statement, signed by 25 local residents, encouraging the town council to help protect their constitutional right to boycott and their ability to criticize foreign governments that violate human rights.

After he spoke, township leaders announced that they would not consider the resolution, saying that there was no clear consensus on the issue in Maplewood.

Thanking the officials, Letwin remarked he was glad to see that the town leadership did not respond to the attempts to smear the BDS movement as anti-Jewish bigotry.

Gordon and Letwin’s public comments, and the announcement by town leaders that the resolution would not be brought to a vote, can be seen in the YouTube video below.

Challenging national attacks

The victory against the anti-BDS resolution in Maplewood, a town of 24,000 west of New York City, is significant, the activists say, as it demonstrates how ordinary citizens can successfully challenge the wave of legislative attacks against the boycott movement.

“If there’s no consensus, that means that the pro-BDS position carries enough weight that the council doesn’t want to touch it,” Letwin said.

This “certainly qualifies as a BDS victory,” he added.

Meanwhile, cracks are starting to appear in the state-level attempts to ostracize and punish Palestinian rights activists who support BDS tactics.

Last month, a federal judge in Kansas blocked enforcement of a state law that requires individuals or companies to sign a document certifying that they do not engage in a boycott of Israel.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit against a similar law in Arizona.

Gordon and Letwin said that these types of resolutions – whether local, state or federal – are proof Israel’s supporters have no recourse but to try to silence, intimidate and threaten activists who support Palestinian rights.

Tellingly, Israel lobby groups conceded last year that they have failed to counter the Palestine solidarity movement, despite vastly increasing their spending.

Letwin advises other activists fighting threats to free speech in their communities to “get organized, reach out to others [and] don’t be intimidated by a lawfare campaign that is itself indicative of the incredible success that BDS is having.”

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In the US, the neo-nazis and other extreme right groups who support Israels ethnic cleansing of Palestine are given free speech. But any one attempting to give voice to the apartheid, torture and abuse the Palestinians are subjected to, are censored.I will continue to add my voice to the ones that condemn ethnic cleansing. I will continue my contributions and I actively boycott HP, Coke, Catepillar, AARB, and any others I see on your list. I can't fight my politicians in Florida who are corrupt, amoral politicians brought and paid for by israel but maybe by us buying one less coke, one less HP computer and giving a donation, maybe we can make a difference.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).