In Rejecting BDS, Livingston’s Town Council Affirms Core American Values

By Elliot Mathias, CRC Chairman and Linda Scherzer, CRC Director 

It’s been four and a half weeks since our national election. With many of us focused on the aftermath of a divisive presidential race, you may have overlooked one small but decisive vote against hatred, hypocrisy, and exclusion that was registered last month in the town council of Livingston. 

By a vote of 5-0, in the presence of Little Leaguers and their parents as well as members of the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, council members voted to condemn all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and distanced itself from the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel’s government and people.

The unanimous vote was met by cheers and applause. Incredibly, an Israeli flag was unfurled and handed to the mayor and members of the town council who proudly stood behind it. There in the chambers of local American government, elected officials were photographed next to a flag with a Jewish star, affirming the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and rejecting attempts to isolate Israel in the international arena.

For the CRC, Livingston represents the first victory of a multi-town campaign. In partnership with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, our members are mapping out a strategy to bring anti-BDS resolutions to every town and city in our catchment area. By reaching out to mayors and other elected officials, leveraging longtime relationships and forging new ones, our goal is to educate leaders at the local level about the true motives of BDS and show their opposition and inconsistency with the fundamental values of American democracy. 

The logical question is, why? Why bring Middle East politics into local legislative councils whose members normally deal with fixing potholes or providing better recreational activities for its residents? What practical effect can this resolution have on defeating BDS? Didn’t Governor Christie sign a law four months ago that prohibits the state’s public worker pension fund from investing in companies that refuse to do business with Israel, becoming one of a dozen states across the nation to pass similar laws?

While we applaud the state’s bipartisan support for anti-BDS legislation, this resolution serves other purposes. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity to educate local officials about the dangers and divisiveness of BDS and the importance of supporting a just, negotiated settlement between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Today these elected officials are dealing with city business.  One day they may run for higher office. This month council members vote on city budgets. In two years’ time one or more of these members may vote on additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. By affirming the importance of core values shared by the U.S. and Israel and forging critically important relationships with politically minded individuals in our community, we lay the foundation for future political support.

While it’s true that in practical terms, the global BDS movement has had no significant political or economic impact on Israel, the insidious effect on future leaders currently studying on American college campuses – while hard to measure – is undeniable. For at least the last eight years, the BDS movement has succeeded in making boycott, divestment, and sanctions part of the campus conversation. Israel’s detractors at colleges around the country have built apartheid walls, shouted down pro-Israel speakers, and brought dozens of divestment votes to student councils.

The two dozen college student councils that have passed divestment votes have been roundly dismissed by Boards of Trustees, leading to no practical effect on   schools’ investment portfolios. Nevertheless, the long-term consequences of these toxic conversations on future leaders in our society – from congressmen and chiefs of staff on Capitol Hill to thought leaders at influential newspapers – may one day diminish the broad, bi-partisan support that Israel currently enjoys.

It’s for that reason we’re taking this initiative across Essex, Morris, Union, Sussex, and parts of Somerset counties. To build support for broad political consensus on Israel. To support a platform that promotes peaceful co-existence and dialogue between Israel and its Arab neighbors, not hateful double standards that serve to isolate the region’s only democracy.

Although not every town council will be interested in debating an international hot topic, we will argue that standing solidly against BDS serves to affirm American core values. To those who wish to join us, to leverage your relationships within the community and make phone calls to local legislators, we welcome your support.

Together, we hope to make a difference at the local political level in Greater MetroWest, one town council at a time.