Dear Delegate Ben Kramer:
On November 18th members of the Freedom2Boycott coalition testified before the Montgomery County state delegation against expected legislation penalizing businesses that participate in boycotts of Israel. After our testimony, you began an aggressive line of questioning directed at Whit Athey of Peace Action Montgomery (PAM), while cutting off his response.
We know this issue is particularly difficult to discuss and that for some supporters of Israel, our critiques are hard to hear. To many of us, this is deeply personal as well. Nevertheless, we believe that Israel and the BDS movement are issues of public concern and bills that seek to use government power to suppress one viewpoint in the debate should not pass into law. In the spirit of dialogue and to answer your questions, which are frequently asked, we would like to respond here.
You asked why Israel should be singled out, when other countries commit similar human rights violations.
In 2005, after 38 years of watching Israel expand its control over the West Bank and eleven years of watching peace talks fail, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations called on the international community to support their non-violent struggle for a just peace through the use of strategic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
As Americans, we believe we are in a unique position to help them as our government has singled out Israel for favorable treatment, giving more than $150 billion in taxpayer money since 1948. This means that Israel receives far more than any other international aid recipient.
While you claim that Israel is a democracy, more than four million people beyond the green line live under its control with no citizenship rights, including the right to vote. They disagree with the assertion that Israel “returned” 94% of the West Bank, and watch powerlessly as Israel has transferred more than half a million of its settlers into the occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of the Geneva Conventions. Palestinians have lived for half a century with arbitrary imprisonment, extrajudicial killings, and property confiscation without due process, all at the hands of Israel. Palestinian women, girls, and LGBT people are also subject to this injustice. To them, it does not matter that other countries somewhere else might be worse and we support them in their efforts to assert their rights.
You asked whether we support other campaigns against other human rights violators.
Our coalition members have participated in the movement against apartheid in South Africa, the movement for racial equality in the United States, and the struggle for LGBT rights. Our members have advocated for the rights of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, as well as the fight to end Islamophobia in America. Far from focusing exclusively on Israel, we have proven our commitment to creating a more peaceful world and take exception to the suggestion that this is not our goal.
PAM is the local affiliate of the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization and is not a single issue organization. Like the other groups testifying, they have worked on a range of issues related to peace and social justice in many countries, including our own. For example, Peace Action opposed President Obama’s $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, noting the human rights abuses of that country and our pressing domestic needs here in the U.S.
You asked if our use of the boycott tactic should be viewed as antisemitic because we focus on the actions of Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state.
The opposite is true. Israeli and American Jews, including many in Maryland, are among BDS’ most active supporters. They care as deeply as you do about this issue and express a very different position. Polls reflect that increasingly, American Jews, especially millennials, support some form of BDS. Their opinions about Israel are part of the public debate and deserve fair and honest treatment. BDS proponents have also spoken out consistently against antisemitism as they do against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and sexism.
In short, we welcome public criticism and debate of our views, but instead we are met with attempts to legislate our viewpoints out of the public discussion. As Americans and Marylanders, we demand better from our government and repeat our request that this expected legislation be strongly opposed.
Chairwoman, Freedom2Boycott in Maryland