MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Township Committee discussed a wide variety of issues at the Tuesday regular meeting including a draft resolution regarding the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel introduced under 'new business' by representatives from Hadassah and the Simon Weisenthal Center.
According to their website, the BDS movement is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice, and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity and works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.
Gail Black, President of Hadassah Northern New Jersey, introduced the proposed resolution that calls for the "condemning of all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the people of Israel." Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is a volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel.
Black cited the larger issues behind the BDS movement saying, "It is a cause for a rise in anti-Semitism in our communities, at our colleges." Black called up David Blackman of the Simon Weisenthal Center to elaborate on the resolution efforts. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate, and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations
Blackman said, "This movement [BDS] is simply the latest vehicle to promote anti-Semitism both globally and in our communities." He pointed to a list of other New Jersey communities that have passed the proposed resolution including Englewood, Closter, Bergenfield, Little Ferry, Midland Park, Tenafly, Livingston, Hawthorne, Paramus, Norwood, Caldwell, West Caldwell and New Milford.
Township Committee members had varying responses to the proposed resoltion.
Committeeman Sam Levy said, "While I support anti-BDS and the Wiesenthal Center, as a township committee we are not in the business of making symbolic, no purpose, no utility resolutions." Levy later pointed to a California case that could impact legality issues with passing such a resolution. Township attorney Christopher "Kit" Falcon indicated he would look into any legal impediment concerns.
Levy stated, "As a body, as a municipal body that serves the Township of Millburn, I would have difficulty in supporting a resolution that is symbolic by nature, symbolic by intent and only symbolic in purpose."
Committeewoman Dianne Eglow pointed to the temperament of the country and the world saying, "I believe that this is very important, even if it is symbolic and I would support this wholeheartedly."
Mayor Cheryl Burstein spoke next, "I don't look at it as a no purpose resolution, I look at it as giving a directive to this township as to what it can and can not do. I also will support the request for a resolution."
Committeeman Robert Tillotson shared his thoughts on the issue saying, "I agree with Sam [Committeeman Levy]. Noting growing movements for and against other boycotts, specifically citing Qatar, Tillotson said "I believe BDS is abhorrent. I don't agree with anything it stands for, but I think we are opening up a can of worms here." Tillotson also noted for the record that he would not vote against the resolution, but would abstain should it come before the committee for a vote.
During public comment, members of the community voiced support for the proposed resolution.
Stephanie Bonder, area advisor for Hadassah of Northern NJ stated, "In our opinion, this is not symbolic." Bonder used other communities who have passed such resolutions as examples as, "they stand against hate." Bonder referred to BDS as a "bullying organization" and looked for Millburn to consider the resolution.
Blackman returned to the podium and noted that New York City had passed a similar resolution. "It is not solely a symbolic gesture," he said. He also indicated that the language of the resolution could be amended to suit the committee's needs and any potential legal impediments.
Millburn resident Sarit Catz said, "I think it's very important. I think the BDS movement is effective in Europe and we are seeing a gigantic uptick in anti-semitic crime in Europe. It's something we would never want to see here in America."
In August 2016, Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie signed an Anti-BDS law that prohibits the state’s public worker pension fund from investing in companies that engage in the boycott of Israel and support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. In June of the same year, New York Governor Cuomo signed an executive order prohibiting state companies from engaging in business with companies exposing BDS principals.