JCRC Commentary in Minnesota Reformer
Minnesota’s anti-BDS law prevents discrimination against Israeli citizens and businesses
by Ethan Roberts and Sami Rahamim, Minnesota Reformer
October 3, 2022
This guest commentary is a response to a recent Reformer article that argued the state should repeal a law that forbids state contractors from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.
Next April, hundreds of Minnesotans will travel to Israel to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel and the success of Zionism, the movement for Jewish liberation and self-determination in the ancestral indigenous homeland of the Jewish People.
This longing to “return to Zion” has been a tenet of Jewish tradition for millennia, since the first century of the Common Era when the Roman Empire defeated the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in Palestine, destroyed the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem, murdered thousands, and exiled its Jewish inhabitants. Zionism is the modern manifestation of the millennial-long devotion of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel and the dream of achieving sovereignty and self-determination. Modern Zionism emerged as a response to a long history of anti-Jewish persecution, discrimination, second-class citizenship and genocide, and reflected a historical moment in which many groups sought freedom from imperial rule.
Zionism actualizes the concept that Jews ought to have a safe haven in a Jewish homeland, free from the bigotry and violence which Jews have suffered perennially as a conspicuous minority culture among non-Jewish majority cultures. The official establishment of this haven in 1948 came too late for most Jews fleeing Hitler’s Europe – thankfully, however, Israel has since been a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution and discrimination in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Iran, Ethiopia, and other places Jews have been targeted for just being Jews.
In addition to responding to the need for safety, Zionism embodies the return of the Jewish people to the land in which we became a people, where our ancient language Hebrew was born and revived as a modern language, and where our holidays and festivals are tied to the agricultural and ecological cycles of the Land of Israel.
The vast majority of Jews around the world, including here in Minnesota, feel a connection or kinship with Israel, whatever their position may be on specific Israeli government policies.
Israel is a vibrant democracy, whose government reflects the diverse views of its citizens, and which includes members from all sectors of Israeli society, including its Arab citizens. As Zionists, we know that disagreement with Israeli policies, like disagreement with our own American government, is legitimate. Zionism, like Israel itself, is a big tent that includes diverse views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and about how to promote peace or support for a two-state solution.
However, advocating for the singling out of the world’s only Jewish State for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (“BDS”) with demonization, double standards, and delegitimization crosses the line between healthy criticism of Israeli policies into antisemitism. In this country, we don’t tolerate discrimination and demonization of people or groups based on their ethnic or national origin. Neither should we tolerate this when aimed at the State of Israel. BDS does nothing to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation. It only makes resolving the decades long conflict between Israelis and Palestinian harder to resolve.
The recent Reformer guest commentary by Buchanan Waller advocating that Minnesotans should boycott Israel is an unfortunate and illustrative example of the moral and practical failings of BDS.
The starting point for Mr. Waller’s demand for the boycott of Israel is the tragic, accidental death of journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh. Writing in lockstep with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been widely condemned for recently proclaiming that Israel had committed “50 Holocausts” against the Palestinians, Mr. Waller accuses Israel of committing a “targeted assassination” of Ms. Abu Aqleh.
Contrary to the claim of a targeted killing, a Biden administration investigation “found no reason to believe that [the death of Ms. Abu Aqleh] was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel….”
Mr. Waller next cites a discredited February 2022 report from Amnesty International accusing Israel of engaging in “apartheid.” This report, which the Biden Administration labeled as being “absurd,” was so extreme and one-sided that even Amnesty’s lead staffer in Israel was critical of it, while several prominent Arab Israeli parliamentarians, who served in Israel’s government, rejected outright the claim Israel was engaged in apartheid within its sovereign territory.
The author then pivots to another inflammatory comparison between the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and Minnesota’s own history of racial discrimination. Seeking to fuse the struggle of Black Lives Matter with the BDS movement, the author claims that Israel is responsible for the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department (“MPD”) because some MPD officers once attended a training course offered by the Israel Defense Force (“IDF”).
This is not the first time BDS activists have engaged in the conspiracy theory which absurdly attempts to hold Israel responsible for American racism and police brutality. Readers are smart enough to know that the tragic and enduring history of American racism and anti-Black violence, including by the police, is more than 400 years old. Blaming Israel for American racism and police brutality is not only a lie; it minimizes America’s own culpability for our nation’s failings and perpetuates the oldest antisemitic myths of Jewish manipulation and control.
The libel that Israel is a racist colonist project is a gross distortion and reflects profound ignorance of the history of colonialism and the deep historical ties of the Jews to Israel, the indigenous homeland of the multiethnic and multiracial Jewish people.
Moreover, such claims ignore the intergenerational trauma of the Jewish people. Jews are the descendants of the most consistently attacked and marginalized people in the history of the world, including within the Middle East. Israel was founded by the survivors of a white supremacist genocide of 6 million European Jews, as well as by hundreds of thousands of refugees who were violently driven from their homes in the Middle East and North Africa.
Israelis have endured not only multiple existential wars, but also the ongoing trauma of terrorism. While we long for a just and lasting solution to the conflict, and are supportive of Palestinian aspirations for an independent homeland aside to and not in replace of the Jewish State of Israel, we cannot forget the suffering of Israelis at the murderous hands of Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Mr. Waller’s arguments against Minnesota’s bipartisan anti-BDS statute, which was overwhelmingly approved by Democrats and Republican legislators before being signed into law by DFL Governor Mark Dayton, are baseless. As Mr. Waller concedes, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently upheld a similar Arkansas anti-BDS law, rejecting the argument that the law violated free speech protections. This ruling is binding in Minnesota, which is part of the Eighth Federal Judicial Circuit. Of the ten federal judges who heard this appeal en banc, only one dissented.
Mr. Waller’s citation of Minnesota’s refusal to do business with North Carolina because of that state’s discriminatory laws against transgender people is also inapposite. BDS is discriminatory because it singles out for boycott Israeli Jews and businesses owned by Israeli Jews. Like our state’s prior decision to refuse to do business with North Carolina, Minnesota’s anti-BDS statute is a moral stand against using taxpayer dollars to fund discrimination.
Additionally, it is simply not true that Minnesota’s anti-BDS law requires the signing of any sort of loyalty oath to Israel. Those who want to do business with Minnesota are free to be as critical of Israel as they want. What they are not allowed to do, however, is actively discriminate against Israeli citizens or businesses.
As proponents of two states for two peoples, we are frustrated that peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians seemingly becomes harder to achieve with each passing year. Resolving this decades- long conflict will not, however, be hastened by engaging in unsubstantiated rhetoric, false and dangerous equivalencies, antisemitic conspiracy theories, or discriminatory boycotts which do absolutely nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians or Israelis.
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