Star Tribune Counterpoint: Discrimination has no rights

In a Star Tribune Counterpoint, JCRC executive director Steve Hunegs and deputy executive director Ethan Roberts outline JCRC’s position on the Israeli judicial overhaul while rebutting discredited arguments by BDS activists: Counterpoint: Discrimination has no rights (

August 1, 2023

For months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have peacefully taken to the streets every Saturday night to protest an effort by Israel’s governing coalition to constrain the independence of the nation’s internationally respected Supreme Court.

Polls show that a strong majority of Israelis believe that the overhaul measures as currently proposed by the government are extreme and would threaten the ability of the judiciary to protect minority rights and to act as a bulwark against governmental overreach.

Despite the fervor of the protests and counter-protests, most Israeli citizens and legal experts agree on the need for some reform of the judicial system, so long as it is grounded in broad national consensus. Rather than building from the broad middle of the electorate, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed forward with legislation only supported by a small minority of the Israeli electorate.

As the consensus public affairs voice for the Jewish communities of Minnesota and the Dakotas, JCRC stands with our local and national partners — as well as most Israelis — who have opposed to the recent legislation weakening Israel’s Supreme Court. We continue to advocate that any reform of Israel’s judiciary be done with the broadest possible agreement.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, the ceremonial head of state, gave a well-received address to a joint session of Congress, attended by virtually all senators and representatives, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris. Herzog received standing ovations as he praised the essential bond between Israel and the United States. He also acknowledged the current struggle inside Israel and the need to preserve a strong judiciary and pointed to the peaceful protests as a hallmark of Israel’s robust tradition of free speech and democracy.

In inviting President Herzog to speak, Congress both celebrated the historic restoration 75 years ago of Jewish sovereignty in the land in which the Jewish people, religion, traditions and culture originate, and highlighted Israel’s leading voice for compromise, decency and respect for all people living within Israel’s borders.

It is within this context that “How Minnesota muzzles free speech on Israel” (Opinion Exchange, July 28) comes across as a complete non-sequitur. In rehashing discredited arguments the authors add nothing constructive that might improve the lives of Palestinians or Israelis.

The authors are demonstrably wrong that Minnesota’s anti-BDS law is unconstitutional. Because Minnesota is part of the 8th Judicial Circuit, the constitutionality of our statute is settled law given the binding precedent set in a 9-1 decision by the full Court of Appeals in Arkansas Times v. Waldrip, as well as the Supreme Court’s refusal to accept an appeal from that decision.

Moreover, the authors falsely conflate the right to boycott with the right of states such as Minnesota to refuse to contract with discriminatory businesses. In so doing, the authors question the moral basis for Minnesota’s other anti-discriminatory statutes such as our venerable Human Rights Act. Refusing to do business with a person or company based on their national origin is discrimination, plain and simple.

In assessing the credibility of the authors, readers should take note that as leaders of the BDS movement, which seeks nothing less than the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, the authors are proponents of a movement which calls for discrimination against Israelis and other Jews simply on the basis of their national origin and/or because they are the wrong kind of Jew.

As the debate rages about the shape of Israel’s democracy, there will continue to be much to discuss about Israel’s deep internal divisions, including Israel’s relationship with its Palestinian neighbors. Such debates, however, are not enriched by the poisonous demagoguery of the BDS movement or false claims that laws barring discrimination are a form of censorship.


As the consensus public affairs voice of the Jewish community, JCRC builds relationships to fight antisemitism and bigotry; educates about Judaism, Israel, antisemitism, and the Holocaust; advocates for Jewish values and priorities; and safeguards our community.