Rabbi Jill Jacobs: Israel Anti-Boycott Act is Wrong-Headed and Dangerous

RELEASE DATE: December 20, 2018

In response to efforts to include the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” (S. 720) in a must-pass Senate appropriations bill and to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging a Texas law that requires government contractors to certify that they do not boycott Israel or Israeli settlements, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, issued the following statement:

Those of us who are committed both to the future of Israel and to free speech must oppose this wrong-headed and dangerous federal and state legislation, which penalizes Americans for nonviolent political action and speech.

Neither I nor T’ruah, the organization I lead, supports or participates in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. But free speech — including the right to boycott — constitutes an essential component of democracy, a basic human right, and a fundamental value of Judaism. The way to fight distasteful speech is with more speech, not by shutting down the other side. We learn this from the Talmud, where the rabbis frequently use colorful language to challenge and repudiate each others’ opinions, while leaving even rejected opinions in the text for later study.

Only half a century ago, the American Jewish community suffered disproportionately from a blacklist that aimed to wipe out certain political discourse and associations. Perceptive Jews understood that an attack on the free speech of one community would ultimately affect all of us. In his 1947 testimony to the House Un-American Affairs Committee, playwright Samuel Ornitz declared, “In speaking as a Jew, I speak in a deeper sense as an American, as the one who has to take the first blow for my fellow Americans. For when constitutional guarantees are overridden, the Jew is the first one to suffer … but only the first one.”

This act further endangers Israel by equating the country within its internationally recognized borders with the occupied territories, which neither the State of Israel, nor the international community, nor decades of U.S. policy considers to be part of Israel proper. In recent years, both the BDS movement and the extremist pro-settlement movement have attempted to blur the distinction between the settlements and Israel proper. This posture, from either side, delegitimizes the State of Israel as recognized by the United Nations in 1948.

Ultimately, BDS will not be overcome through banning speech, but rather through creating a long-term agreement that protects the human rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, both within internationally recognized borders. Legislation that violates the First Amendment does nothing to help Israel, threatens Americans’ constitutional rights, and may even provoke a backlash against Israel and the American Jewish community.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of more than 2,000 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

To learn more or to speak with T’ruah Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs, contact Julie Wiener at jwiener@truah.org or (212) 845-5201.