The Freedom to Boycott for Justice and for Human Rights
Letter to the Westchester Jewish Council from Howard Horowitz:
Dear Elliott, Shabbat Shalom,
I am writing to express my deepest concern and objection to the decision taken by WJC to actively endorse legislation that in its spirit and in its specifics is unconstitutional and an assault on free speech. The call for a legislated ban or boycott of businesses that want to participate in a voluntary boycott of Israel until it ends the occupation and the ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights is hypocritical, and is a blatant effort to silence dissent. You do not even distinguish between boycotting Israel and boycotting settlement enterprises on stolen Palestinian land. As a respected member of the business community for over 40 years, and as owner of a business for over 30 years, I have the right to participate and have my business participate in a nonviolent movement without fear of recrimination from my own government. The problem here is the Israeli occupation and the settlements, which have been deemed illegal according to international law and which violate the moral code I believe you and I abide by. The occupation and the settlements, which are expanding as I write this, put Israel in grave danger and ultimately will spell a disaster for the country. From this perspective, participating in the BDS movement is a more “pro-Israel” stance than is the position you advocate. Yet, I and others are threatened with legal and financial retribution from our local and state governments should we see the violence of the occupation and the expanding settlements and want to register dissenting voice against it by participating in nonviolent action to stop it.
I am confident you are aware that this legislation emerges out of an organized intimidation campaign developed by the Netanyahu government and its supporters in Israel, and propagated by ZOA and AIPAC. As a citizen of this county and this state, I must conclude that that our local politicians are being held hostage and our legislators and governors have been put in a bind. Has the state been blackmailed into making dissent illegal? How many millions of Jews and others—including our immediate forefathers in the 1950s—have been persecuted by this form of McCarthyism? This is the realization of the worst fears of the Jews and of the Reform movement in particular; that is, the fear of Zionist and Israeli meddling in our internal affairs. Jewish history teaches us to beware and to be wary of any effort to silence dissent. Given our collective history, any organization that claims to represent Jews and their organizations in our community must question not support the wisdom and efficacy of punitive legislation in a free society.
Israel is in the gravest of danger, not from BDS, but from its own actions and policies. There is real danger that Israel will succumb as a result of the ascendancy of the right wing, fundamentalist, religious dominated parties that have no tolerance and no love for the liberal democracy we want and claim Israel to be. This can only spell disaster for the country. The people we so want to identify with in Israel—the secular, progressive, liberal religious segments of politics and society—need us now more than ever to just say “no” to draconian policies and legislation, including the legislation you have endorsed today.
By your words and actions, you are also nurturing the ever-growing divide in the Jewish community and the ever-increasing alienation of Jewish youth. I have confidence the Reform movement will not long stand for this kind of undemocratic censorship by the powerful over the powerless. We cannot be blinded by what we are being told is “kosher” pro-Israel-ism. We are fed such hateful propaganda that we refuse to see not only the truth of what is going on in Israel, but the tremendous harm it will bring to Israel and its future. Do you really believe that to ban BDS strengthens the forces of progress, peace and justice in Israel? If there is no BDS alternative for bad behavior, what tools do the forces of progress have to influence the behavior of the Israeli government not only toward Palestinians but towards secular, Jewish society in Israel?
More and more American Jews are coming to understand the situation in Israel as I do. There will come a day—and I hope it will not be too late—that Jews in the US will say “no” and withdraw support from and take real actions against the fundamentalists (with Netanyahu the false, friendly face of a government that is out of line with our values) who currently dominate the discourse and the policies in Israel. Once that happens, an Israeli government that is in line with our values will thrive and succeed. It is time to rethink what it means to be pro-Israel. I hope you will understand what is at stake here.
I will close with this: I believe in “never again” and so I will not remain silent within my Temple, in the Jewish community and in the wider community nor refrain from expressing my opposition to this legislation and to the WJC’s endorsement of it. I urge you to convey to the Board of Legislators to let this legislation die quietly.