A pro-BDS governor? Not for Georgia

I am a business leader and an active member in the Jewish community in Georgia, and a progressive Democrat. I am proud to see my fellow progressives, many of whom are Jewish, speaking out against recent troubling trends in the United States, including anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, and an increase in overtly racist and anti-Semitic public demonstrations.

In addition to those issues, I have also long been concerned with the pernicious Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. BDS is a form of economic warfare and an attempt to delegitimize Israel, which is why I have been closely following anti-BDS policy developments throughout the country. While I, like many supporters of Israel, have some differences with policies of the Netanyahu government, we understand that Israel – the Middle East’s only true democracy, one of America’s staunchest allies and a place of refuge for Jews facing oppression around the world – must be supported and we cannot stand by as its legitimacy is attacked.

At its core, the BDS movement is trying to accomplish what 69 years of armed conflict have not succeeded in doing and that is the destruction of the Jewish state.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, an international law expert at Northwestern University, wrote in the Washington Post that, “the message of the BDS movement – Israel as a uniquely villainous state – is fundamentally rejected by the vast majority of Americans.” As the BDS movement has become more prominent, American elected officials at the national, state and local level have wisely taken action to protect Israel against it, and American supporters of Israel like me are grateful for their efforts.

In 2015, Illinois became the first state to pass anti-BDS legislation. In a statement after signing the legislation into law, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said that states must stand up to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel advocates. Since that time, more than twenty states have taken action in opposition to the anti-Israel BDS movement.

Fortunately, Georgia was one of the many states to follow the example of Illinois. In 2016, Georgia enacted its own anti-BDS legislation, requiring those bidding for state contracts to certify that they are not participating in an economic boycott of Israel. As a progressive Democrat and supporter of Israel, however, I was saddened that a few Democrats in the Georgia legislature turned their backs on our party’s historic tie to Israel and fought against the passage of the bill.

The then-Democratic Minority Leader of the Georgia House, Stacey Abrams, voted against the bill and pushed other Democrats to do the same. Moreover, she was one of only a handful of Representatives to speak against the bill on the House floor. I understand from pro-Israel activists who were at the Capitol to support the bill – many of whom are progressive Democrats – that Representative Abrams refused to meet with them to hear their reasons as to why she and other Democrats in her caucus should support the bill.

What gives me more pause is that Ms. Abrams is not just any Democratic state legislator. She is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and she is touted by many prominent national Democratic organizations. EMILY’s List and the National Abortion Rights Action League have endorsed her, even though her opponent in the primary, Representative Stacey Evans, is just as progressive on women’s issues, including abortion rights, as Ms. Abrams. The family of George Soros, the nation’s most prominent and largest donor to Democrats and progressive causes, has already held a fundraiser for Ms. Abrams in New York City. Democratic members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation, including civil rights icon John Lewis, have already come out in support of Ms. Abrams. So has Congressman Hank Johnson, who was elected with major support by Georgia’s Jewish community.

Notably, Ms. Evans is one of the members of Ms. Abrams’s House caucus to buck her and vote in favor of the anti-BDS bill. It seems to be one of the notable contrasts in their otherwise similarly progressive records. It is my suspicion that those progressive organizations and community leaders who have rushed to endorse Ms. Abrams simply did not know of her record on BDS before they endorsed her.

Many members of the pro-Israel community with whom I have spoken about this matter have told me that it is a “red line” for them on political support — and it should be. In fact, in Illinois, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, was forced off the ticket due to his unwillingness to oppose the BDS movement (it is worth noting that his position was less disconcerting than Ms. Abrams’s as he at least supported state-wide anti-BDS legislation but stopped short of supporting comparable Federal laws). Like Ms. Abrams, Mr. Ramirez-Rosa is considered a rising star among progressives nationwide, but he was held accountable by the Democratic establishment once his BDS position became known. Members of the Democratic Party in Georgia should hold Abrams similarly accountable.

As progressive voices and power rise in the Democratic Party, those of us who are proud progressive Democrats and proud supporters of Israel must speak up in favor of maintaining and strengthening the Democratic Party’s ties to Israel. We should all take note that the BDS movement has been infected by anti-Semites whose only goal is to weaken and hurt the State of Israel. In Georgia’s Democratic primary for Governor, we have a moment that will help us establish whether our party will maintain its strong support for Israel. Stacey Abrams’s tacit support for the BDS movement ignores years of solid Jewish support for the Democratic Party and brings into question whether this singular event disqualifies her as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party in Georgia.

About the Author
Steve Berman is the founder of OA Development, Commercial real estate agency in Georgia. Steve writes frequently in publications including The Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Forward and The Atlanta Jewish Times. He is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program, has served as President of the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, The Jewish Vocational Service (now Jewish Family and Career Service), and is a co-founder and Past President of The Weber School. He serves on the Founding National Board of Young Judaea.
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