Sandy Springs’ mayor and city council have declared a Palestinian boycott of Israel to be “anti-Semitism” and “bigotry,” taking a stand on an international controversy in a proclamation released during a sister-city visit by Israeli local government officials.
“The city of Sandy Springs opposes any boycott, divestment or sanctions initiative whose purpose is to instill hostility or promote anti-Semitism,” says part of the proclamation, which was read aloud and signed by Mayor Rusty Paul at a Sept. 13 community reception for the Israeli visitors at Congregation Or Hadash.
The proclamation is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a decade-old effort by a coalition of Palestinian organizations to use economic pressure against what they describe as Israeli government “occupation” and human-rights abuses.
BDS is extremely controversial. The Palestinian BDS National Committee says the effort is a human rights program modeled on resistance to South Africa’s former apartheid system of racial segregation. The Anti-Defamation League is among the organizations that say BDS is fundamentally anti-Semitic in its goals and practices.
ADL encourages governments to adopt resolutions like Sandy Springs’, which declares that “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is an initiative targeted against the Jewish people of Israel, and is a movement that negatively impacts opportunities for peace in the region.
“Boycotts such as the effort supported by BDS promote bigotry and discrimination and cause economic harm,” the Sandy Springs proclamation says.
The BDS movement website denies any bigotry, describing itself as “an inclusive, anti-racist movement that is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is opposed on principle to all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
The website says that such claims are an “attempt to redefine anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism, the political ideology behind the establishment of an exclusionary, supremacist Jewish state through the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”
The Anti-Defamation League website counters that BDS is fundamentally bigoted.
“The BDS campaign is a global effort to isolate and punish Israel,” the ADL website says. “While not all advocates of BDS necessarily are anti-Semitic and may be driven by their perception that they are merely engaging in legitimate criticism of certain Israeli policies toward Palestinians, many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state.”
“All too often, BDS advocates employ anti-Semitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonize Israel,” the ADL site continues. “For example, when advocates use Nazi analogies or conflate Jews and the Israeli government, that is anti-Semitic.”
In recent years, many legislatures around the country have proposed or passed bans on contracting with businesses that join the BDS boycotts. In Georgia, one such effort was led by state Sen. Judson Hill, who represents part of Sandy Springs, and became law earlier this year.
The ADL website says that attempts to create such laws can run into legal challenges on free speech and other grounds. The ADL instead encourages non-binding resolutions such as the one Sandy Springs just issued.
“We concluded that resolutions are a vehicle for a much more comprehensive, hard-hitting public rejection of BDS, and a more effective public education tool – two of ADL’s key goals,” the ADL website says. “So, ADL urges legislators to pass strong resolutions that condemn the BDS movement and promote strong ties with Israel in arenas like trade, research and development and academic cooperation.”
Such cooperation was the purpose of the Israeli delegation’s visit to Sandy Springs. Paul and other city officials traveled to Israel last year as the first step of the Sister City exchange program. The anti-BDS proclamation also echoes some of the thoughts city officials shared after that trip, including the ethnic and religious tolerance they said they witnessed in cities where “Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze peacefully engage in business and daily life.”
The proclamation is slated to be formally presented at the Sept. 20 City Council meeting.