Israel boycotts stoke anti-Semitism and hurt California

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Some critics believe AB 2844, a bill opposed to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns that is under consideration in Sacramento, weakens the First Amendment rights of anti-Israel activists. Legal precedent teaches otherwise.

The First Amendment does protect speech. But actions — like the boycott of Israel that the bill opposes — are not offered the same near-absolute protection.

In Rumsfeld v. FAIR (2006), the Supreme Court unanimously held that the government could deny funding to universities that boycotted military recruiters on campus. Schools were free to express opposition to a military presence, but actually barring military personnel from campus was not similarly protected.

The right to say is not the same as the right to do.

Recently, San Francisco banned city workers from travel to North Carolina in reaction to its “bathroom bill.” Mayor Ed Lee said a city with a large gay and lesbian population “will not subsidize legally sanctioned discrimination.” So while everyone is free to express even hateful opinions about LGBT people, San Francisco doesn’t have to do business with them.

Similarly, AB 2844, does not prevent anyone from calling for the dismantling of Israel. It does, however, say that California wants nothing to do with businesses that boycott the Jewish state.

The anti-BDS measure will help protect the $5 billion in annual trade between Israel and California that creates jobs, revenue and more. In the midst of our disastrous drought, California turned to Israel, a largely arid desert nation that solved its water crisis by combining hi- and low-tech knowhow and lower-cost desalinization to create dynamic environment-friendly water strategies. Israeli bio-medical advances are so dynamic that even Hamas’ terrorist chief sends loved ones for life-saving treatments to Israel.

If BDSers succeed, Californians would be denied access to Israeli breakthroughs.

A successful BDS campaign would also rob Silicon Valley and consumers of Israeli-created technology and apps like Waze. Our Legislature is right to protect and promote economic ties that enhance the lives of Californians.

By joining the growing number of states adopting anti-BDS laws, California will also help shut down one source of global anti-Semitism. Whatever the intention of individual BDSers, there is no question that anti-Semitism tracks BDS activity more closely than CHPs does a speeding motorist. A 2015 report concluded that “BDS activity is the strongest predictor of incidents that target Jewish students for harm, the factor with the most deleterious effect on campus climate.”

The evidence is overwhelming: “56 percent of schools with evidence of BDS activity had one or more incidents that targeted Jewish students. In schools with no evidence of BDS activity, only 23 percent had incidents targeting Jewish students. In 95 percent of schools with BDS activity, one or more incidents of anti-Semitic expression occurred, while in schools with no evidence of BDS activity, only 33 percent reported such incidents. … The chilling effect on the climate for Jewish students has been even more far-reaching.”

The UC Regents were troubled enough that they convened a special committee to investigate campus anti-Semitism.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar addressed the global threat. “I think BDS is an unfair, discriminatory movement based on a moral double standard that is, in the final analysis, anti-Semitic.”

The toxicity of the BDS/Israel-Apartheid State canard was personally experienced by one of this commentary’s authors (Cooper), who was spokesman for Jewish groups at the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa. That was where the international campaign to demonize Israel was canonized. Durban’s police chief warned us, “Please tell your people not to attempt to walk over to the Jewish Community Center (just a few blocks away). I cannot guarantee your safety.” I soon understood why. Thousands of protesters were brought in to exercise their right to free speech. They were protesting — not Israeli policies but the very existence of Israel. A large banner held aloft proclaimed “HITLER WAS RIGHT”!

We are confident that Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s bill will protect free speech while nurturing economic, technological, environmental and educational ties with Israel, and combating anti-Semitism in our state.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Israel boycotts stoke anti-Semitism and hurt California

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