Statement from the JVP Rabbinical Council Supporting Public Discourse in the U.S. About BDS

As rabbis, we affirm the inherent human dignity of Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian call for solidarity and justice, through the nonviolent tactics of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, gives us hope. Almost 70 years after Palestinians lost their homeland, the popular movement for Palestinian liberty is now on the world’s political agenda. A decade since a broad coalition of Palestinian bodies issued its call to the world for solidarity (BDS), Palestine is being discussed in legislatures across the United States and around the world.

We are heartened that the urgent and ongoing human rights issues faced by Palestinians have become part of our political discourse.  We call on our elected officials to resist efforts to stifle the movement toward justice for Palestinians through the current wave of “anti-BDS” legislation.

In the face of relentless land theft and illegal settlement building, Palestinians issued a call for nonviolent resistance to occupation in the form of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call (BDS) in 2005. The goal of BDS is to make visible the daily violence the Palestinians endure under military occupation and legal discrimination, and to put pressure on the Israeli government to negotiate a just peace that can finally bring an end to the occupation.

The prophets of the Bible gave us lasting visions of inspiring change. Sometimes the prophet’s first task was to wake the people from their fantasy of business as usual. Before we are inspired by Isaiah’s poetic vision for the future, we read Jeremiah’s lament. The Palestinian nonviolent call for solidarity, BDS, is accomplishing both tasks of the prophetic word. First, BDS is educating the public about what the Israeli occupation really looks like as seen from the Palestinian side. It focuses on the violence and injustice that need our attention. Second, BDS sets forth a vision for nonviolent resolution built on the basic democratic principle of equality under the law.

In response to the BDS call, Church groups representing some 9 million Christians have divested from companies which benefit from the occupation. Jewish Voice for Peace, with more than 200,000 members and supporters, has endorsed BDS. Millions of U.S. citizens of Arab descent or of the Muslim faith support Palestinian liberation.  Just last week, the international security company G4S withdrew its business from Israel, after sustained pressure from BDS activists.

While civil society and business have stepped up to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, the response of many public officials has been to act to shut this conversation down. Across the United States and the world, legislatures and public institutions are passing resolutions that criminalize and penalize the use of these nonviolent tactics.  Some of this legislation also asserts erroneously, implicitly or explicitly, that critique of the Israeli government’s systematic oppression of Palestinian people under its control constitutes a form of anti-Semitism.

We oppose legislation that seeks to impede or to penalize entities that engage in BDS.  And we reject the assertion that the BDS movement, or other critiques of the Israeli government, are necessarily anti-Semitic.  On the contrary, our support for the nonviolent movement to end the Israeli government’s oppression of the Palestinian people is an expression of the Jewish teachings that all people are created in the image of G-d, and that we are commanded to love our neighbor, and the stranger, as we love ourselves.  The Palestinian call gives individuals, communities, and corporations an opportunity to be more ethical and play a role in bringing about a more just future.

The anti-BDS legislation being pushed through state legislatures across the country threatens to put a chilling effect on efforts to hold Israel accountable by discouraging time-honored tactics of political dissent. As Americans, we show our respect for the Palestinian people right here at home when we honor our own values of free speech and democracy. When we honor our own values, we also stand for justice in the Holy Land.

We believe it is our religious and moral duty to respond to the Palestinian call for BDS.  We believe that BDS is currently an essential strategy toward ending the systemic injustice and daily degradation of human rights that are the intolerable reality for Palestinians living under Israeli government control. We call on all people of good conscience to act in nonviolent solidarity with the Palestinian people and support BDS. We call on our elected officials to allow this urgent public conversation to go on unimpeded by government interference.


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