J Street policy principles on the Global BDS Movement and boycotts, divestment and sanctions efforts

The question of boycotts, divestment and sanctions has drawn increasing attention in the absence of a clear horizon for reaching a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue is roiling many campuses and being taken up by city councils, state houses and Congress. J Street has a principled and nuanced position to guide its work on this issue.

Below are the bedrock principles that guide us in responding to and dealing with BDS.

1) We do not advocate for or support any boycott, divestment or sanctions initiative whatsoever

2) J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement

J Street advocates for a two-state solution and a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel. The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line. Further, some of the Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Movement is not a friend to Israel, nor does its agenda, in our opinion, advance the long-term interests of either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

3) We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line

These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global BDS Movement.

It is critical to maintain the distinction between boycott and divestment efforts which work against the interests of Israel, and initiatives which are limited to opposing the occupation.

While we do not oppose these initiatives, we do not support them either.

4) There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the territory that it controls over the Green Line, and that distinction must be maintained

J Street believes it is vital for the future of Israel that this distinction be maintained, and clarified wherever it is now obscured. Funds contributed to the settlement movement help perpetuate the occupation and blur the distinction between democratic Israel and the occupied territory beyond the Green Line.

Our work on this principle takes place at three basic levels: individual, communal, and governmental.

Individual: We believe that individuals should have as much information and agency as possible when deciding how to contribute money to Israel. Individuals should be able to choose for themselves whether they wish to purchase products made in the occupied territory. Labels that accurately distinguish between products made in the state of Israel and those originating in the territory over the Green Line maintain this important distinction and provide consumers the information they need in making their consumption decisions.

Communal: We believe that non-profit organizations and institutions have an obligation to provide the members of their communities with maximum transparency about how, where, and why funds are spent in Israel and in Israeli-controlled territory.

Organizations should make clear whether and to what extent they contribute funds to projects in the settlements. If they have an internal policy prohibiting, limiting or permitting the contribution of funds to projects in the settlements, they should make this policy public.

Governmental: Since 1967, the United States government, through nine presidential administrations, has clearly insisted that the settlement enterprise in occupied territory is illegitimate and counterproductive to Israel’s interests and the cause of regional peace and stability. Until 1981 the US government labeled the settlements “illegal” under international law.

We believe that the actions of the US government should line up with this long-standing policy of opposition to settlements, and we will advocate for it to maintain and enforce that policy through its actions. Further, we will oppose legislative efforts at the state and federal level which, by blurring the distinction between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, acts to contravene that longstanding policy.

5) The Global BDS Movement can only be successfully opposed with a genuine commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution

Opposition to the Global BDS Movement that refuses to countenance any criticism of the occupation or of Israeli policy will never succeed in winning over any Movement supporters, and will only drive more and more frustrated and concerned people into their camp. It is precisely the wrong approach, and it is having a devastatingly counter-productive effect, especially on campus.

We are confident that our policy and approach – pro-Israel, pro-peace, anti-occupation – is by far the most effective means of countering the Global BDS Movement and maintaining support for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic homeland. It is rooted in a recognition of the real problems facing Israelis and Palestinians, and based on the progressive values and desire for pragmatic action that motivate students and activists.

6) Efforts to exclude BDS Movement supporters from public forums and to ban them from conversations are misguided and doomed to fail. We support publicly debating and otherwise engaging with supporters of the BDS Movement

We are strong advocates of publicly debating BDS Movement supporters. We have proudly participated in such debates in the past and we will continue to do so. We are confident that our arguments against the BDS Movement are strong enough to win on their own merits, without the need to resort to attacks and exclusion.

Further, J Street is opposed to rhetoric that refers to the Global BDS Movement as a form of terrorism or violence. Such attacks oversimplify and misrepresent a complicated phenomenon, and they trivialize the horrific acts of actual terrorism and violence which Israel has faced and continues to face.

7) J Street is opposed to legislative attempts to penalize or criminalize BDS activities because they are the wrong way to combat the BDS Movement.

J Street is opposed to federal and state-level legislation that would criminalize individuals’ and non-governmental organizations’ BDS activities, penalize BDS supporters or impose BDS-related litmus tests on individuals. This type of misguided legislative overreach is the wrong way to fight BDS. By alienating and angering the liberal audiences that BDS seeks to engage and recruit, it actually empowers the BDS Movement. This legislation can too easily violate constitutional free speech protections, and is fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic principles as Americans and as Jews. We urge lawmakers and Jewish communal leaders to engage Americans who are sympathetic to BDS in serious and open conversation and debate, rather than seeking to silence them by aggressively penalizing their actions and positions.