September 13, 2021 — Burlington, Vermont
Dear Members of the Burlington City Council:
I have to assume that those among you who support the pro-BDS petition up for consideration this coming Monday night (Sept. 13, 2021) believe that you are making a moral statement in support of a beleaguered people. I would like to offer three observations in that regard.
- The Source of Palestinian Suffering – Honest people can disagree and criticize Israeli government decisions, including how it has conducted its occupation of areas in the West Bank. Such criticism, however, loses its moral integrity when it is based on carefully curated information that is deprived of context and information that would provide for a fuller and more complete portrayal of a tragic conflict taking place 5,000 miles away. For example, many of those who promote BDS resolutions carefully avoid acknowledging that Israel has offered the Palestinians a state three times and been rebuffed three times without a counteroffer by Palestinian leadership. Similarly, they will avoid talking about the enduring commitment by Hamas, Hezbollah and elements of Fatah to Israel’s destruction and the accompanying open and persistent appeals to kill Jews. These are among innumerable complex circumstances that shape this conflict and the reality that Israelis and Palestinians alike cannot escape. Pretending that they don’t exist to buttress morally righteous claims is neither moral nor righteous. It is no more than pouring fuel on the fire, a formula for continued conflict and intolerance.
- How Things Appear to Most American Jews – A recent survey documented that 75% of American Jews believe that BDS is antisemitic. It may be helpful to understand why so many Jews see it this way. First, we are overwhelmingly mindful that Israeli actions can and should be subject to debate, as might happen in any democratic country. At the same time, we are attuned to the fact that some people go to great lengths to manufacture a picture of Israel that presents it is a unique and dangerous moral outlier. This, in fact, is how antisemitism has manifested itself for the better part of nearly 2,000 years. By painting venomous portraits of Jews and Jewish conduct, all manner of outrages against the Jewish people have been justified. Jews have come to recognize this habit of mind and fear it. We are mindful that many people, including some Jews, come to their views about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians after earnest study and reflection. The petition now under consideration by the Burlington City Council, however, displays neither quality. It is a deceptive and one-sided resolution that conforms to a deeply rooted tradition wherein Jews and Jewish interests become the default focal point for people’s uninformed moral outrage.
- Is Israel Uniquely Evil? - Even if one were to assume the truth of claims being made about Israel and its conflicts with Palestinian and other Arab neighbors in the petition now before the Burlington City Council, why would the Council urge a boycott of Israel from among all the nations of the world? China has up to two million people detained in concentration camps because of their faith. Turkey has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and has violently suppressed their quest for national self-determination for decades. Brazil continues to steadily devastate remaining indigenous populations. The worst that has been said about Israel pales in comparison to some of what has been reported about these and many other countries that enjoy extensive economic and political ties to the United States. Why are they not a subject of interest to members of the Burlington City Council? Why is Israel alone the country that inspires such indignation?
We hope that you will pause to consider these observations and questions. Do you really understand what is happening in Israel/Palestine or are you embracing truths that others have given you? Are you ready to disenfranchise a significant percentage of the Jewish community, who will recognize your actions in ways that you may not consciously intend?
Israel is a country at war facing extraordinary challenges. This war, that has led to so much Israeli and Palestinian suffering, has deep and complex roots. Honest people will find occasion to criticize actions of Israel leaders, as they do of Palestinian leadership. A resolution built around a carefully crafted narrative that hold Israel uniquely responsible, however, is no more than a willful act of ignorance that bears an uncanny resemblance to Medieval Passion Plays and other devices that have been used to demonize and persecute Jews over the centuries.
I and many others hope that Burlington will act decisively to protect its good name.
AJC New England
American Jewish Committee (AJC)