Statement of NYC Council Member Brad Lander on Resolution 1058-A Opposing the Global BDS Movement
As a proud, active, progressive Jew, I feel deeply invested in Israel. The extraordinary history of our people returning after two millennia of exile and persecution, still in the shadow of the Holocaust and refugee camps, to courageously build a Jewish homeland, while also striving – as the Israeli Declaration of Independence set out – for “equality of social and political rights irrespective of race, religion, and sex” is a powerful inspiration to me. While I celebrate and affirm Jewish life in the diaspora, I also care a great deal about Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish, democratic state, a haven for Jews in times of trouble (which we still face, sadly, around the world), free from terrorism or attacks from her neighbors. I have visited on multiple occasions, have friends and family who live there, and feel a strong sense of shared responsibility.
For those reasons, I am forthrightly opposed to the Global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. As was made clear at the Council hearing last week, the tenets and actions of Global BDS are incompatible with Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. I supported the successful efforts against BDS at the Park Slope Food Coop and Brooklyn College, and will continue to speak up in this cause. I am pleased to co-sponsor Resolution 1058-A, which places the New York City Council strongly on record against BDS and other attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
I am proud that this Council is expressing our strong opposition to BDS without supporting a blacklist of institutions that engage in it. Using the contracting power of the state to punish peaceful political expression goes against core American values. I am grateful to lead sponsor Andy Cohen, and to Jewish Caucus Chair Mark Levine, for working with Council Member Steve Levin and me to amend this resolution to make it compatible with Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.
Where people engage in hate speech or hate crimes or violence – against Jews or Muslims or African-Americans or LGBTQS or anyone else – we should prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Where people engage in peaceful political activity with which we vehemently disagree, we should answer them with better speech of our own. That is especially important at a moment when hate crimes against both Muslims and Jews are on the rise, here in NYC and around the country.
At the same time, I believe it is important to make clear that many of the same values that lead me to oppose BDS also lead me to oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Like Israelis, Palestinians have a right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights. For nearly 50 years, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been without full rights as citizens, living under Israeli military rule, and too often subject to home demolitions, land seizures, and detention without trial.
In addition to being incompatible with Palestinian rights, the occupation is incompatible with Israel’s own existence as a Jewish and democratic state. If Israel were to grant citizenship and voting rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it would soon cease to be a Jewish state, a haven and homeland for our people. But continuing to deny these rights to Palestinians is incompatible with democracy. Moreover, many former Israeli security and military officials believe the occupation imperils Israel. It is hard to label Ehud Barak, Yuval Diskin, Meir Dagan, or Gadi Shamni as anti-Semites or self-haters.
Along with so many others, I believe that a genuine two-state solution, with a Jewish, democratic Israel side-by-side with an independent Palestine, with mutual recognition and provisions for peace and security – as elusive as it seems today – is the only acceptable future, the only way to safeguard the lives and liberties of both peoples. The answer is not simply for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank, as we have seen in the attacks on Israelis from the terrorist reign of Hamas in Gaza. A two-state solution must be achieved through bi-lateral negotiations, with the support of international partners. I do not presume to prescribe how that will happen. But I am confident that neither Global BDS, nor the continued building and government subsidizing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, will help us get there.
Although it was hard to find at the Council hearing last week, or in so much of the news coverage on the issue, there are constructive efforts to face the conflict honestly. To not be consumed by decades of war and terrorism and hatred and revenge. To forge the difficult path to genuine understanding, mutual recognition, respect, and real peace. I pray that those efforts will grow in strength, for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians, and for all of us who care passionately about them.