New York City Council Member Opposes BDS and the Occupation

Benjy Cannon Image
Benjy Cannon
on September 16, 2016


Our policy on BDS

two-state solution

Our policy on the two-state solution

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

We know that the best way to truly combat the global BDS movement is to simultaneously oppose the occupation. On the one hand, the BDS movement and opposition to a two-state solution is growing. On the other, anti-BDS legislation — some of which does not distinguish between Israel and the territories it controls — is cropping up at both the local and state level. Both of these could undermine a two-state solution and the prospects for peace. That’s why ensuring that the pro-Israel movement’s opposition to BDS is rooted in a genuine desire for a two-state solution and an end to abuses of Palestinians’ human rights is as important as ever.

This week, New York City Council member Stephen Levin penned an eloquent statement that masterfully engages with the complexities of opposing BDS, supporting a two-state solution and taking issue with Israeli policies that undermine it. Levin, along with Council member Brad Lander, helped ensure changes in the resolution that addressed the first-amendment concerns that many anti-BDS bills have raised.

In the statement itself, he started by laying out his personal connection to the issue:

During the past few months, I have often recalled the time, 21 years ago, when I was 14 years old, learning of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on a Sunday morning. I didn’t know then why it was so important, and so tragic, but in time I came to realize what Rabin’s assassination, at the hands of a radical anti-peace Jew, has come to represent: it was a victory of hate over love, perpetual discord over peace. In the intervening years, we have seen, too many times to count, bloodshed avenging bloodshed, over and over, in a seemingly never ending cycle… To be unabashedly pro-peace, pro-two state in 2016 is to be seen as naïve or worse. I proudly stand today and say that I am pro-peace, pro-two state, Israel and Palestine, and that I oppose any and all efforts that undermine that goal.

He then makes the case against the global BDS movement, citing its failure to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state and actively support a two-state solution. Where his statement really stands out, however, is in his recognition that opposing efforts that undermine a two-state solution is part and parcel of his support for Israel:

I oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the military occupation of land beyond the Green Line. My reason is two-fold: First, Palestinians living in the occupied territories are, and have been for the past 49 years, living without their full inalienable rights of liberty and equality, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Second, if Israel were to annex the West Bank and afford all the equal rights of representation to all Palestinians in West Bank and Israel proper, Israel would eventually cease to be a Jewish state. So, it is clearly in the long term interest of Israel itself to work for a two-state solution as soon as possible for it to survive as both a Jewish and democratic state.

Legislators and activists working on this issue should take note: This is what it means to make a compelling case against BDS. It means opposing efforts on the left and right that make a two-state solution less likely, defending the fundamental rights of Israelis and Palestinians and distinguishing between the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist and the illegitimacy of its occupation of land over the Green Line.

Levin also acknowledges that staking out a middle ground on this issue can be challenging, but he ends on a hopeful, inspiring note:

There are times that I, and many who believe that peace is possible, may grow despondent. The prospects for peace are dimmer now than they were 20 years ago. At those times we should remind ourselves of Yitzhak Rabin and the many others, Israelis and Palestinians, who had the courage to risk their lives, and give their lives, to stand up – sometimes to their own countrymen – and fight against hate and perpetual discord and fight for love and peace. As we approach a full century of conflict between Jews and Arabs – Israelis and Palestinians – over the national aspirations of both peoples, we need some of their courage.