Dear Members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators:
On June 12 at 10 a.m. the Legislation Committee is scheduled to discuss an anti-BDS resolution referred to on your website as ID # 10140 Resolution – LEGISLATORS KAPLOWITZ AND MAISANO: Proposed Reso – Anti BDS Movement.
On behalf of the members of Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester, I urge you to withdraw, or vote against, this resolution.
Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester is a national membership organization, with over 60 chapters and more than 200,000 online supporters, that seeks to promote a peace in Israel/Palestine based on international law, human rights, equality, justice, and security for all the peoples of the region. Our Westchester chapter is one of five in New York State. As an organization and as individuals, we support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
Like many JVP members, I have been to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact, I just returned from two weeks there. I found the racial segregation and domination of Palestinians to be arbitrary and cruel. Since the illegal 1967 annexation of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods and the land of 28 Palestinian communities deprived those residents of the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the land expropriation, forced transfer of Palestinians and establishment of settlements has been systematic and premeditated.
There is no public housing for Palestinians, and they are prevented from building homes by the requirement of a permit, which is routinely and arbitrarily withheld from Palestinians, and in the very few cases in which permits are granted, they are very expensive. The 20,000 homes built without permits containing more than 85,000 Palestinians are all subject to demolition, with the cost of demolition imposed on their owners.
There are virtually no parks or swimming pools in East Jerusalem, except in Jewish settlements. “Greater Jerusalem” – the Jewish-Israeli metropolitan area, now extends from Ramallah in the North, to the Dead Sea in the East, and Hebron to the South, facilitated by the Wall and a network of highways that tie the settlements into West Jerusalem and Israel. By building and locating the Wall where it did, Israel effectively confiscated 9-11% of the West Bank and put the water acquifer inside it. Israel now controls 85% of the water in the West Bank. While water is plentiful enough in Jewish West Bank settlements to keep the swimming pools overflowing, Palestinian West Bank residents are often deprived of running water for many hours a day.
In the West Bank, I saw up close how ugly, brutal and implacable the occupation is, enforced by overwhelming force and intimidation of the local population. Many Palestinian families have endured raids of their homes without warning by Israeli soldiers. Children as young as 12 years old have been taken from homes or streets and jailed without charges for weeks or months. Two out of five Palestinian men have been held at one time or another in Israeli prisons, often without charge or trial. Release is often conditioned on agreement to collaborate with authorities, making those released suspect in the eyes of their Palestinian brothers and sisters even if they have not agreed to collaborate. Israeli soldiers, border police and settlers routinely walk around with guns, the latter too-often assaulting or taunting Palestinians children going to or from school.
Tens of thousands of homes have been demolished, olive orchards have been destroyed, much of Palestinian agricultural land has been taken or threatened, while military checkpoints routinely make travel from one Palestinian town to another close by away take hours. The United States has manufactured and delivered much of the military hardware and software used to enforce the occupation, to our shame and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions which call upon all UN member states to refrain from assisting or facilitating these violations of international law.
We oppose the Kaplowitz-Maisano resolution for the following reasons:
Legislative measures that demonize BDS and level false accusations against it and its supporters, even resolutions without the binding force of law, have a chilling effect on dissent. They are a form of indirect government censorship that undermines First Amendment protections. Further, they stifle the open exchange of ideas that could help resolve the tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are nonviolent approaches to ending injustice. These tactics are protected under the Constitution and have a long and honorable history protesting segregation (the Montgomery bus boycott), unfair working conditions (the farmworkers’ grape boycott), an apartheid regime (the boycott of South Africa), and LGBT discrimination (boycotts of Arizona and North Carolina).
The BDS movement on behalf of Palestinian rights, which is supported by a growing number of us in the Jewish community, is directed against the discriminatory and oppressive policies that the government of Israel employs against Palestinians. Contrary to misinformation and the assertion in the Kaplowitz-Maisano resolution that BDS as “a movement that seeks to undermine Israel and malign the Jewish people,” BDS is not anti-Semitic. It does not promote hatred or discriminate against Jews as a people but rather protests the policies of a state. Many Westchester Jews have written you protesting this misrepresentation. To misuse the term anti-Semitism in this way is to trivialize an odious phenomenon. As an organization guided by Jewish ethics and tradition, JVP supports BDS because we believe that enduring Jewish (as well as democratic) values require Israeli Jews to respect the humanity, dignity, and equal legal rights of their Palestinian neighbors.
Under international law, the Israeli annexation and occupation of Palestinian lands is considered illegal and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians an abuse of human rights. For decades, the stated policy of the United States Government has been that settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Americans who support BDS are therefore adhering to the principles to which their government pays lip service.
The anti-BDS initiative before you is wrong-headed. It discourages thinking and action that is humanitarian in outlook by seeking to end grave harm and suffering. It distracts attention from pressing local issues, serves no discernible local interest, and alienates politically active sectors of Westchester’s residents who believe that the freedom to hold dissenting views without government pressure is a foundation of American democracy. It encourages Israel to persist in policies toward the Palestinians that undermine its Jewish values and its claim to democracy, damage its standing in international public opinion and contravene international law and human rights.
For all these reasons, I and my JVP-Westchester colleagues urge you to vote against this anti-BDS resolution.
Very truly yours,
Robert L. Herbst
Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester
Larchmont, New York 10538