In Massachusetts, a Victory for the Right to Boycott
Boston, MA, February 8 – Defenders of free speech and Palestinian human rights won a victory in the Massachusetts legislature today when a key committee refused to advance a bill that would have prevented the state government from signing contracts with those who support an economic boycott of Israel.
The legislature’s Joint State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (SARO) committee sent an anti-boycott bill (H1685/S1689) to study, rather than releasing it for a full vote of the legislature, effectively ending its chances of being passed this session. This contentious bill, crafted by the Jewish Community Relations Council and co-sponsored by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt, was part of a nationwide effort to pass legislation that would inhibit the right to boycott companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
On its face, the bill, entitled “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts”, reiterated anti-discrimination protections that are already on the books in Massachusetts, yet a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.
“Today, Massachusetts lawmakers have defended our right to organize against injustice,” said Jill Charney of Jewish Voice for Peace - Boston. “Palestinians and their allies in the Commonwealth will continue applying economic pressure on Israel until it ends its occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Over 100 faith, legal, community, civil rights and other grassroots organizations in Massachusetts formed a “Freedom to Boycott” coalition to oppose this bill. The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace Boston (JVP Boston), and Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) spearheaded opposition to the bill, challenging misrepresentations of BDS (including the claim that it is anti-Semitic and that it constitutes a form of discrimination based on national origin). As Eva Moseley, Holocaust refugee and member of MAPA says, “BDS explicitly condemns anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. Rather than fight BDS, Israel might consider ending its own discriminatory policies which create conditions for Palestinians under which no people – Jews included – would agree to live.”
In a joint letter opposing the bill, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, the National Lawyers Guild, and Defending Rights and Dissent, concluded that, “This bill offers no new civil rights protections, is rooted in substantial part in animus towards BDS campaigns for Palestinian rights, would violate the Constitution if applied to deny state contracts to persons or entities engaged in BDS and will have a chilling impact on constitutionally protected speech.”
“Boycotts are as American as the Boston tea party, the civil rights movement, and the anti-apartheid movement” said Cole Harrison, executive director of MAPA.
These organizations were joined by the ACLU of Massachusetts and a parade of constitutional lawyers in testifying against the anti-boycott bill at its hearing in July, arguing that whether or not one supports BDS, the right to boycott has been upheld by the US Supreme Court. Since then, the ACLU has filed two federal lawsuits against similar legislation in Kansas and Arizona. On January 30, 2018, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Kansas law barring state contractors from participating in boycotts against Israel, saying the state law violates their free speech rights.
At a time when the Trump administration is threatening basic liberties, we applaud the SARO committee for protecting free speech in the Commonwealth despite heavy pressure from pro-Israel advocates and lobbyists. As Sara Driscoll of the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine said, “We are very pleased that our lawmakers understood the long-term implications of attempting to remove the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action – a peaceful, tried and true expression of dissent.”
Massachusetts Peace Action is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to develop the sustained political power to foster a more just and peaceful U.S. foreign policy. We are an affiliate of Peace Action, the nation's largest grassroots peace and disarmament membership organization, with more than 100,000 members and 30 chapters across the country.
Jewish Voice for Peace Boston is one of more than 60 chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that works across the U.S. to achieve a lasting peace for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis based on equality, human rights, and freedom.
The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine is a Boston-based organization that raises awareness about Israel's use of water as a weapon against the people of Palestine.
We Organize Balfour’s Legacy Conference. Watch it here.
November 2, 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which committed Great Britain to the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine without consulting the indigenous population.
The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine and The Trans Arab Research Institute organized an all-day conference in Cambridge, MA to mark the centenary.
The Alliance Stands out–and Stands Up–for Water Justice in Palestine
As The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine gathered on March 22 to mark World Water Day 2017, prospects for water justice were as frigid as the weather.
In Standing Rock, North Dakota ‘water protectors’ were informed that oil would be coursing through the Dakota Access Pipeline that very week. In Flint, Michigan, residents had just learned that it would be years before they would be able to drink unfiltered tap water.
Thousands of miles away in the Gaza Strip, the general manager of the water utility announced that now more than 97 percent of the Strip’s water table is unfit for domestic use by Gaza’s 2 million residents. Doctors meanwhile reported a steep increase in the number of ‘blue babies’ because the water was so high in chloride and nitrates, and of patients admitted to hospital with kidney problems after being forced to drink polluted water.
Things are not much better in the Occupied West Bank, where Israel has this year been ratcheting up its destruction of the water infrastructure serving Palestinian farming communities.
With the swift approach of the year 2020 – when the UN has predicted that the Gaza Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ - we must ratchet up our efforts to work for water justice, connecting the struggles here and in Palestine. Please join us!
We Do Broad Public Education
February 19, 2017
Alliance members and supporters stood out at the very busy subway and bus hub with our banner and signs on 2/16. In just over a half hour we had given out all of our 400 leaflets explains how Israel uses water as a weapon against Palestinians.
All but two of the passersby were friendly. One person asked us what she could do now. We talked about the anti-bds bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature which would penalize support of BDS. She said she would call her legislator and urge him to not vote for it. One young man stopped and read the leaflet and said, "Thank you for this, this is the truth ..thank you for telling the truth. No one is out there is telling the truth. But all of you here are."
We say YES to Water as a Right
In the evening of August 10, 2016, more than 20 people engaged in a standout on the picturesque bridge in the Boston Public Garden. We represented peace and justice groups organized by the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine. We were there to honor and bring attention to an international acknowledgement of water as a right, and as a necessity for human dignity and survival. The Coalition of Women called this worldwide action; they are part of a larger Water Coalition, composed of twenty NGOs working together for water rights in Palestine. (Read press release from Coalition of Women for Peace here.)
The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, dedicated to bringing awareness to the Israeli use of water as a weapon against Palestinians, has four core principles:
- Water is a human right
- Water should not be privatized
- Water should not be used as an instrument of oppression
- Water should be distributed equitably
The Alliance has been addressing the Israeli control of water and its devastating impact on the Palestinian people in demonstrations, on our website, and through the electronic media.
Our signs and banner reflected our mission. At the standout, we gave over 100 leaflets to interested passersby and had the opportunity to engage many in conversation about why we were there. We experienced a few raindrops that evening, a reminder that rain and water are rare commodities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
See more information on the world-wide protest here.
We say NO to Israel Shutting Off Water for Palestinian People
On July 14, 2016, the Boston-based Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine led a multi-pronged action against Israel’s escalation of its inhumane campaign of water deprivation in the West Bank at the start of Ramadan. While daytime temperatures had often soared above 100 degrees in Palestine, Israel reduced water flows by 60–90% in the Nablus and Jenin areas. (Palestinians’ access to water is always severely restricted, far less than the minimal standard mandated by the World Health Organization of the UN.)
In the morning, the Alliance delivered an open letter to the Israeli Consulate in Boston, expressing collective outrage about Israel’s use of water as a weapon and affirming the right to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).
A noon rally, endorsed by 17 groups, began on the steps of the Massachusetts State House. Standing in front of the Alliance’s “Water Is Life” banner and other signs about water theft, Susan Jacoby spoke about not being misled by Israel’s public relations smokescreen on water distribution issues, since Israel maintains almost total control of water resources in Palestine.
Prior to the rally the group learned that an anti-BDS amendment had been added to a labor/jobs bill and would be debated by the State Senate that afternoon. Jewish Voice for Peace/Boston, the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, and MAPA (Mass. Peace Action) successfully mobilized their members to make calls to legislators’ offices.
As some rally participants stayed outside to distribute the Alliance’s “Water Is a Human Right” leaflet, a large contingent broke off to hand-deliver copies of the open letter to all Massachusetts legislators, the governor, and the attorney general. Several activists met with Cynthia Creem, the senator who had introduced the amendment.
By 5 p.m. the anti-BDS amendment had been withdrawn. A victory that day—but Boston-area groups will stay vigilant.
For more information about this, see this article from the Electric Intifada.
We say YES to 1for3’s Walk for Water
The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine was thrilled to play an active part in the first annual Walk for Water 5K in Support of Palestinian Refugees on April 23, 2016. Despite the cold and rainy weather, over 200 walkers participated in the Cambridge Walk, and there were solidarity walks in Detroit, Michigan, Santiago, Chile, and Lebanon. As a result of the success of the event, 1for3.org will be able to build a cistern and implement programs to establish green space to benefit the residents of Aida Camp. Later this year, members of the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine will join the collaborative planning process for another successful 5K Walk for Water in 2017. We hope to see you there!
We say NO to Anti-Boycott Legislation
The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine is one of 61 Massachusetts organizations protesting anti-boycott legislation.
The March 2016 press release states
Over 60 organizations across the Commonwealth have formed the Massachusetts Freedom to Boycott Coalition, including groups representing Muslims, Christians, Jews, American Indians, students, professors, labor unions, lawyers, and LGBTQ communities; as well as advocates for human rights, peace and justice, anti-racism, housing, criminal justice reform, corporate accountability, civil liberties, and climate change.
“Since at least 1902—with the action led by Jewish women against Kosher butchers charging exorbitant rates for meat in New York—the boycott has been a crucial tactic by which Americans have voiced their conscience and contributed to positive social change,” said Jeffrey Melnick, Professor of American Studies at University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a member of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine. “Today I stand with all who want to protect a time-honored American approach to political protest, which has made such a difference, in New York, in Montgomery, and in Cape Town.”
The Coalition released a letter asking Massachusetts lawmakers to oppose any bill that would legislate against Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) strategies for justice in Palestine/Israel. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has announced plans to submit such legislation.
We said NO to the Jewish National Fund
On a fall morning in November 2015, a protest line formed as cars pulled into the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel in Newton, MA, where the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was hosting a breakfast meeting about Israeli technology and its use as a solution to water crises. Members of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice (now the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine) stood with signs proclaiming “Water Is a Basic Human Right” and “JNF: Stop Stealing Palestinian Land.”
Created in 1901 to acquire land for a Jewish State in Palestine, the JNF is most commonly known for its campaign to “plant a tree in Israel” in order to “make the desert bloom.” The JNF plants trees and creates parks on land and over villages stolen from Palestinians, attempting to erase the existence of Palestinian life. Many of the trees it plants are not native to the area and therefore require incredible amounts of the water needed by—and taken from—Palestinians.
While Israel congratulates itself on its water technology, treatment, recycling, and “responsible” aquifer drilling, the country does not address the the fact that many of the aquifers they use are on Palestinian land and that they charge Palestinians for the water they steal from them.
We said NO to the Junket to Israel for MA State Senators
In Fall 2015, it was announced that 10 Massachusetts state senators would be traveling to Israel on an all-expenses-paid junket funded by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston.
On October 29, Boston Globe staff reporter Frank Phillips raised the ethical issue of a trip being planned by the JCRC for a quarter of the Massachusetts Senate even as the Senate was voting to pass a JCRC-sponsored resolution that opposed “any actions, campaigns, or movements that would in any way undermine, punish, or otherwise limit, isolate, or diminish any relations with Israel.”
As soon as news of the trip was made public, members of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice (now the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine) began calling the offices of the ten Senators who were due to travel to Israel, pointing out the conflict of interest, and asking the lawmakers to reconsider their participation in a delegation designed to present Israel in a positive light and mute international condemnation of its treatment of Palestinians.
In previous years, the Boston Alliance had campaigned against the State’s “Innovative Water Partnership” with Israel, arguing that Massachusetts should not be complicit in its use of water as a weapon against the Palestinian people. Although we were encouraged that the Water Partnership had been placed on hold, we were vigilant that joint water projects with Israel not be on the State’s agenda again.
After a November 2015 press conference at the State House, the Boston Alliance for Water Justice presented the Senators with the following “Ten Reasons” not to go on the Jewish Community Relations Council trip, along with a petition signed by over 1,000 Massachusetts residents.
The heart of our work is public education. With much persistence, members of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice along with Nidal al-Azraq of 1for3, met with eight out of the ten State Senators who went on the junket. We asked them about the trip and learned—not surprisingly—that very little time was spent in the West Bank and very little attention was given to the Occupation. Our impression is that if the whole trip was, metaphorically, a "book" only one "paragraph" was devoted to Palestine. Ironically, both the trip and the anti-BDS legislation opened doors for us to visit our legislators.
We said NO to the Massachusetts-Israel Innovation Water and Clean Energy Partnership
In June 2014, members of the Boston Alliance for Water Justice (now the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine) delivered letters from Palestinian children in West Bank refugee camps to our former governor in response to the launch of the Massachusetts-Israel Innovation Water and Clean Energy Partnership that was formed after Governor Patrick’s 2011 trade mission to Israel. Their letters detail the hardships families face due to the lack of water.
For nearly two years, the Boston Alliance campaigned against the “Innovative Water Partnership,” arguing that Massachusetts should not be complicit in Israel’s use of water as a weapon against the Palestinian people. In October 2015 the Water Partnership with Israel was placed “on hold” for the foreseeable future. Learn more at Mondoweiss.