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Boycotting Israel for political purposes is unfair and creates a double standard

Individual states, including Minnesota, have been quick to pass legislation aimed to push back against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort. To date, 21 states and New York, which enacted an Executive Order, have some form of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) legislation enshrined in law. In just about two years, since Illinois passed the first-in-the-nation anti-BDS legislation in May of 2015, numerous other states have followed suit. This has been one of the most successful efforts in recent legislative memory.

Jacob Millner

These bills call out BDS efforts directed at Israel for what they are — a form of economic hate warfare and discrimination aimed at the lone Jewish state in the world. Additionally, this successful legislative effort has prospered from the East Coast to the West Coast, from north to south, and in blue, red, and purple states. In a nation seemingly divided on everything, legislatures in New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and many more have all forcefully, and with strong bipartisan support, decided that BDS is hate, and states will not tolerate or condone taxpayer dollars going to subsidize discrimination.

In February, Republican Minnesota State Rep. Ron Kresha said, “It’s pretty widely accepted that discriminating against the Jewish people … is not a practice the state of Minnesota should engage in.” His assessment was shared by Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wrote in an op-ed, “My order ensures that no state agency or authority will engage in or promote any investment activity that would further the harmful and discriminatory BDS campaign.” And Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added as he signed this bill, “As Israel’s No. 1 trading partner in the United States, Texas is proud to reaffirm its support for the people of Israel and we will continue to build on our historic partnership. … Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies, and we will not tolerate such actions against an important ally.”

Double standard should not be tolerated

What the comments made by Kresha, Cuomo, and Abbott all have in common is the understanding, correctly, that boycotting Israel for political purposes is unfair and creates a double standard, which the U.S. State Department has deemed anti-Semitism. I do not use this term lightly. There is legitimate criticism of Israel, her government, and her policies. However, the singling out of the lone Jewish nation-state for divestment and sanction under the guise of “opposing occupation,” while not addressing the hundreds of other territorial disputes around the world, is a form of double standard that should not and cannot be tolerated.

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed this exact sentiment recently when he stated, “We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”

This follows U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who recently said that “The denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism. “[Israel] should be treated like any other member state.”

If one takes the time to actually listen to the words of the leaders of the insidious BDS movement, it becomes even clearer. The clarion call “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” says everything you need to know. No more Israel. No more Jewish state. And those who say they are solely fighting the post-1967 “occupation” should ask themselves why BDS activists constantly target concerts and art exhibitions in Tel Aviv, far from the Green Line.

American state legislators and governors, Democrat and Republican alike, understand that BDS is a hateful movement focused on the destruction of Israel. Taking a stand against it must be applauded.

Bills show sound economic sense

In addition to the moral courage legislators and state governments are showing, it also makes sound economic sense for states. According to the latest figures from the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), in 2016, trade between the U.S. and Israel totaled $35 billion. From across the nation, states trade in the millions and billions of dollars with Israel. Nevada, for example, conducted $97 million worth of trade with Israel; California exported $2 billion; New York $4.9 billion; and Minnesota, $105.6 million.

Hatemongers, who aim to harm the economy of the Jewish state, are also hurting the economy of the U.S. States recognize the importance of the innovative achievements of Israel and clearly see that translating into business for us over here.

Why has the effort to pass anti-BDS legislation been so successful? It comes down to two simple truths. First, discrimination is wrong and must never, under any circumstances, be tolerated. Second, BDS not only seeks to do damage to the Jewish state, but also would do grave harm to the U.S. Almost half of the states, in just over two years, have passed anti-BDS legislation. More will follow and now Congress is working on bipartisan legislation as well. America is a beacon for freedom and democracy and continues to lead the way with strong and sound judgment.

Jacob Millner, of Minnetonka, is the Midwest regional director and senior policy analyst for The Israel Project as well as a board member of the local Jewish Community Relations Council.


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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/04/2017 - 08:04 am.

    Disgusting and offensive

    I am not a fan of BDS. I agree with the author in that I believe Israel gets singled out for its border disputes and human rights abuses while many other worse cases are ignored. But this kind of legislating punishment for political speech is un-American.

    • Submitted by Ron Barak on 08/08/2017 - 03:23 am.

      Is the Israel anti-boycott act[1] an infringement of free speech

      Palestinian advocates use the language of free speech, human rights, social justice and international law to rationalize the irrational and immoral – financially supporting terrorists while promoting economic discrimination against the State of Israel. This manipulative use of universalistic terms hides the boycotters’ real agenda: the elimination of the State of Israel.

      Congress is now deliberating on whether to update 1970s-era legislation against boycotting Israel with the Israel Anti-Boycott Act that would target the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
      Some of the same misleading arguments raised against the act were also used to discredit the Taylor Force Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would punish the Palestinian Authority if it continues to financially support and incentivize terrorists and their families with American taxpayer dollars.

      Today, there is bipartisan support in Congress for updating the 1979 Export Administration Act prohibiting American corporations from cooperating with boycotts against Israel by foreign nations, the EU or the UN. No American should be compelled to acquiesce to a boycott ordered by a foreign entity.

      The ACLU, J Street and among other progressive groups are lobbying legislators to withdraw their support, claiming the legislation seeks to impose an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

      Senators Portman and Cardin responded to the ACLU, writing, “Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel… it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”

      Let’s be clear: the right to express one’s point of view, no matter how contentious or odious, is a constitutionally protected right.

      However, the attempt to expand the meaning of speech to include commercial transactions is a transparent maneuver to stop this particular piece of legislation that would bar economic discrimination against Israel.

      According to Scholars for Middle East Peace, “Legal analysts have shown… the amendment only… prohibits actual commercial boycotts… The distinction between expression, which cannot be regulated, and commercial conduct, which can be, is vital.”

      Boycotts against the Jewish state began immediately with its creation in 1948. The Arab oil embargo and economic blackmailing of companies doing business with Israel motivated Congress to pass the Export Administration Act in an attempt to punish the boycotters of Israel and other American allies. The law barred economic discrimination against Israeli businesses, on pain of criminal and financial penalties.

      Fast-forward to the 21st century, where the original boycott effort has mutated into the BDS movement, whose endgame is the destruction of Israel not the creation of two states for two peoples.

      BDS is a serious and growing problem targeting investment funds, pensions funds and companies doing business in Israel.

      Groups already supportive of BDS include various trade unions, municipalities, progressive mainstream churches, and academic organizations.

      But the greatest potential threat from BDS may come from the halls of the United Nations and the European Union.

      The ACLU claims the proposed legislation is an infringement of free speech. Yet many state legislatures have already passed anti-BDS legislation, going to great lengths not to restrict First Amendment rights.

      Now that the legislation has reached the national level, the ACLU wants to include commercial transactions under the banner of speech.

      It should be no surprise that the ACLU would be at the forefront in defending the rights of the anti-Israel movement. The ACLU is an advocate of intersectionality, whereby Zionism is stigmatized as being incompatible with everything from feminism to fighting racism. Progressive Zionists are demonized while even the most illiberal BDS supporters are celebrated.

      Memo to the ACLU: fighting against Israel’s right to exist meets the State Department definition of antisemitism. Even the UN secretary general said that the “denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”

      The ACLU says it does not want to “stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” Notice that it doesn’t confine itself to the disputed territories but includes all of Israel, more proof this is not about a two-state solution but supporting the BDS goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

      BDS is not about two states or the “occupation,” it is about the destruction of Israel.

      The words of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti say it all: “Definitely, most definitely we [BDS] oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” and “no Palestinian Supports a Jewish state in Palestine.”

      Let’s hope that the rest of Congress will rally in support of this important legislation against international BDS and will not be duped by the ACLU’s dubious freedom of speech argument.

      [1] The “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” is bipartisan legislation currently supported by 42 senators and 247 members of the House.

      By Eric R. Mandel August 6, 2017

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/04/2017 - 09:12 am.

    Double standard

    I just don’t know that it makes sense not to pursue policies we think are right just to avoid creating the appearance of a double standard. Consistency shouldn’t dictate policy.

  3. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 08/04/2017 - 09:55 am.

    Maybe not, but…

    BDS may be the wrong approach, but seriously – what can be done to remediate the awful situation Palestinians are in? The way many of us see it is that Israel, a good friend, has a very bad habit that amounts to a codependency with the US in continuing to repress and contain these people. Yes, we know all of the arguments. But Israel – again, a good friend – is engaging in a destructive behavior that damages itself. Friends don’t let friends continue down the path of self-destructive behavior. So rather than calling names and acting as an apologist for destructive short-term goals that will harm Israel in the long run, why not propose an effective alternative to the reason for BDS in the first place?

  4. Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/04/2017 - 10:56 am.

    As soon as I encountered the term “hate warfare”

    in the second paragraph of this piece, I knew that no honest discourse would follow. It is clear that the author has no intent to argue against one’s use of one’s own economic power, or one’s persuading groups of others to do the same, to achieve non-economic goals, because the author offers no argument. It is a rhetorical piece parading the success achieved in constraining individual liberty to the author’s political end, a success that is unsurprising given the unanimous establishment disinterest in the oppression of the Palestinian community.

    In this unfortunate world of deeply imperfect humanity, there may be a positive correlation between anti-Zionists and anti-Semites (as well as a positive correlation between pro-Zionists and ant-Semites). But as an anti-Zionist Jew, I know that there is a profoundly clear distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The equation of the two is simply a (long-standing and very successful) tactic to deflect criticism of Israeli apartheid.

    I would applaud MinnPost were it to host on its pages an honest debate, based on facts and good faith, about Israel’s treatment of its Palestinians and the appropriate means for individuals and institutions to seek to influence it. I don’t applaud MinnPost for publishing what is nothing more than tendentious strategic messaging.

  5. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 08/04/2017 - 11:03 am.

    On the ground

    I had the opportunity to visit Israel a few years ago. A very impressive place. I also had an opportunity to observe close up a level of bigotry toward the Palestinian population that was totally unacceptable from our Israelie tour guides.

    I observed well irrigated fields and areas that were dry as a bone, the difference religion. It was explained that Palestinians. did not have an interest in agriculture, but also mentioned that the water wasn’t shared. On another case, the subject was work force. It was suggested that the natural order was Jews managed, while Arabs did manual labor. In yet another situation, we were told not to buy goods from Arab merchants. It was suggested that we would be cheated,

    it seems as though these were questions not asked often, but I do have sn advanced degree in geography, so I notice things.

    The feeling was a lot like apartheid South Africa, where historical feuds took a boycott to overcome. Or our relationship with Native Americans, whose land was taken followed by confinement to low value reservation land.

    I understand the desire for a homeland and personal security of tge Jewish people, but do not feel that bigotry and oppression are something we should be required to support.

    How does government think it can tell anyone that they cannot choose to bd public about not buying from someone who is out of line. Years ago, after reading about how Walmart does business, I resolved never to shop there which I share with other.

    The settlements are theft, which I can never support. I am glad I went there and would consider returning if the situation improves. I also have no objection to the massive military and other support the US provided, paid for by all of our tax dollars. Howevet, telling people they are anti-Semitic if they choose not to spend their money there is wrong.

    If you practice bigotry, do not accuse others of the same. Of course, I know that many Israelis are as critical of the status quo as I am, but Netanyahu is just doubling down, making things worse

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 08/04/2017 - 11:58 am.


    As a Jew, I reject using anti-semitisim as an argument-ender for Israel sanctions.

    While there are undoubtedly some anti-Semites who exploit sanctions, many supporting BDS legitimately view Israel as an apartheid state. Whether it is, and what to do about it, should be the debate. On some level, sincere BDS supporters are the victim of ad hominem by Israel defenders.

  7. Submitted by Joseph Musco on 08/04/2017 - 02:02 pm.

    Your link to the U.S State Department website explicitly states “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” If a critique of Israel parallels that of other BDS movements (U.S. Civil Rights movements in 50s & 60s, South African apartheid in 70s and 80s), the critique is fair game.

  8. Submitted by Ethan Roberts on 08/04/2017 - 02:09 pm.

    What is on and off the table for debate?

    An old lesson from my law school days is the critical difference between those arguments we collectively decide are debatable and those which are considered by the vast majority of people to be off the table. The best illustration of this is that as a civilized society we debate the legality of abortion, but not infanticide.

    It is curious then that Mr. Bauer appears to support the notion that whether the BDS movement is antisemitic should be taken off the table while at the same time he invites a debate as to whether Israel, a multi-ethnic democracy (in which non-Jewish Israelis sit on the nation’s Supreme Court, hold elective office in the Knesset, and serve in high ranking capacities in the military and diplomatic corp.) can legitimately be viewed as an apartheid state by the same movement which is committed to that nation’s destruction.

    In so doing, Mr. Brauer’s comments are not just a rejection of Mr. Millner’s op-ed, but the Obama Administration’s State Department position that extremist opposition to Israel’s continued existence, as best exemplified by the BDS movement, can in fact be anti-Semitic (“EXAMPLES of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include …. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis … Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation …. [and] Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist ….”)

    If indeed the charge that the anti-Israel BDS movement is capable of antisemitism
    is an ad hominem attack, which it isn’t,Mr. Brauer’s quarrel would more appropriately be directed at President Obama and Secretary Clinton then Mr. Millner.

    • Submitted by David Brauer on 08/04/2017 - 02:49 pm.

      Straw man

      First, I didn’t say anti-Semitism within BDS should be “taken off the table.” It’s fine to criticize BDS for that.

      BUT, what is really going on here is that Ethan (and the author) are suggesting that BDS be taken off the table. I think there’s a healthy debate about the creation of dozens of Lesothos by any nation, regardless of the composition of their courts or diplomatic corps. It’s results of their actions that matter.

      Finally, Obama policy is not an argument-ender – he was wrong about some things! – and South Africa is a better analogy, especially since they and Israel were allied during apartheid. 

  9. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/04/2017 - 02:14 pm.

    Boycotting a Nation for Political Purposes is Not Hate

    Those unfamiliar with the statute under discussion, which the author failed to describe in any meaningful fashion, will find it here:

    The fact that Israel is the only Jewish state on Earth does not render all actions in oppositions to its policies anti-semitic. Boycotts have been valid forms of political action since long before the Irish Land League first organized against Captain Charles Boycott in 1880. It is in use here today, against states and businesses which take unpopular stands, whether it be a state which enacts “bathroom bills” thought to discriminate against transgender citizens or companies such as Target which adopt trans-friendly bathroom policies.

    Minnesota’s statute likely will be ruled invalid, in my opinion as an unconstitutional restraint on political speech and, perhaps, on the ground that states have no power to interfere in international affairs.

    Argue the merits or demerits of BDS as you will. Just don’t take the easy out of labeling political dissenters anti-semites and hate-mongers.

  10. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/04/2017 - 06:14 pm.

    Well there we go. The far left and alt-right have found common ground.

    Utopia is just around the corner from here, probably.

  11. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/05/2017 - 11:06 am.

    Whether you agree with the aims of a boycott or not, it is a long-standing, legitimate form of non-violent social protest, and to say that one particular form of boycott is illegal is a dangerous incursion into the principals of free speech.

    I am neither Jewish nor Arab, so as an observer with no emotional connections to either side, I feel free to say to make this observation.

    The one thing the Israelis and Palestinians agree upon is that this conflict is a fight between the pure, blameless angels who never did anything wrong and the morally bankrupt devils who do evil deeds for the sheer depraved fun of it.

    What they disagree on is which side is which.

    Long ago, the conflict degenerated into a mindless revenge spiral. Side A does something that harms Side B, and Side B takes its revenge, but then that prompts further revenge from Side A, which prompts further revenge from Side B. And so on and so on and dooby-dooby-doo for seventy years.

    On the subject of Israel in particular, I wonder if these policies that stir the hornets’s nest when things get too quiet (how did Begin’s settlement policy make any sense at all?) are a cynical means of uniting Israel’s ethnically diverse and not always mutually congenial Jewish population, a way of keeping the European and Middle Eastern/North African Jews from going at each other.

    If these revenge-based policies worked, if “teaching the other side a lesson” guaranteed that the other side learned it, we would have peace today.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/07/2017 - 02:37 pm.

    Kinda weird actually.

    If some kind of boycott of some Israeli products were to be proposed, specially any state sanctioned boycott, that proposal would be subject to much open debate and scrutiny. Whatever arguments one might have for or against sanctions, including accusations of antisemitism, would get a full public hearing. Any legislation that effectively preempts such proposals and attending debates is by definition unconstitutional censorship. You can pass these laws, but I’m not sure they’ll survive judicial scrutiny. A core principle of liberal democracy is the ability of citizens to propose government policies, and introduce laws, we have a process for this that can’t be legislated out of existence on behalf of Israel.

    Furthermore, the idea that Israel is somehow singled out, at a time when countless boycotts and sanctions are currently underway escapes credulity. Any boycott or sanction against Israel would be one of many, not the one and only, so no double standard is established or applied. In fact, one could point to any one of many other boycotts and sanctions and claim the failure to consider them in Israel’s case is the actual double standard. And of course, what kind of “standard” is set by singling Israel out for this kind of legislative protection?

    In any event, it surprises me that thoughtful people would actually espouse speech suppression like this because it’s probably counter productive in the end. You may get these laws passed, but you can’t stop people thinking and talking openly about the the conflict and possible interventions. In the end this will likely end up being characterized as another Israeli expression of power over persuasion, and that won’t reflect well on Israel or her supporters.

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