Even here in New York, where so many Jews make their home and are politically active, it takes a fair share of courage these days for politicians to take a bold, principled stand on matters relating to Israel. Criticizing Israel has become a blood sport on college campuses, and often in political circles as well. Nowhere is this more evident than with the BDS movement– the move to bring Israel to her knees via economic boycott and divestment and sanctions in international arenas and organizations
It is precisely for that reason that New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito deserves the support and appreciation of the pro-Israel community here for spearheading the successful effort to pass NYC Council Resolution 1058-A, “… condemning all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction its government and people.”
The resolution, passed this week by a vote of 40 yes, four no, and six abstentions, clearly places the city of New York on the side of the angels in the fight against the BDS movement.
Although it claims to be a political movement taking a stand of conscience against Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, BDS is actually far more insidious than that. On its own, BDS presents as a “non-violent” challenge to Israel’s economic viability by hitting it where it hurts—ostensibly in its pocketbook. But in truth, BDS is part of a larger, well- coordinated effort to delegitimize the State of Israel by tarnishing its moral reputation and painting it as a rogue state. It’s not so much a matter of free speech as it is a broadside against Israel’s very legitimacy as a sovereign state.
In a region of the world populated by some of the most repressive and brutal regimes, only Israel has been singled out by the BDS movement for this kind of action. There is no move to boycott or sanction Saudi Arabia for its repressive treatment of women, or its LGBT population (two areas in which Israel is particularly progressive), or even its common criminals. Nor, for that matter, is there any organized effort to call out any of the other countries in the Arab world for the total absence of any true citizens’ rights when it comes to choosing a government! But the platform of the BDS movement has focused all of its energies on Israel, not even recognizing in its platform her right to exist, much less describe its complicated realities with any semblance of reality or fairness.
What is particularly gratifying about the action of our City Council is that, in spite of considerable pressure brought to bear by those seeking to present BDS as a free speech issue, the Council recognized it for what it is… a thinly veiled expression of anti-Semitism, and part of a much broader campaign to delegitimize Israel and threaten its long-term viability. The resolution was sponsored by a Jewish member of the Council, Andrew Cohen, but it was passed by a super majority of the Council, and Speaker Mark-Viverito herself answered those who support BDS as a free-speech issue by saying attesting to the fact that the BDS movement is “philosophically against the right of Israel to exist.” Her voice was heard loud and clear.
Most speakers of the NYC Council have political aspirations that are broader than the Council itself, and I suspect that Melissa Mark-Viverito is no different. But that is precisely why she deserves the appreciation and respect of the pro-Israel community here in New York. There will be– actually, there already are– significant sectors of the New York City voting public who will remember the stand that she and the City Council took this week in condemning BDS when they go to vote. Let us in the Jewish community resolve to remember it as well. Thank you, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and thank you New York City Council, for showing the courage of your convictions when so many are running to jump on the bandwagon of BDS. We will not forget!
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.