Category Archives: Israel

Del. Kramer Critiques BDS, Part II

I accidentally cut off the second half of Ben Kramer’s (D-19) comments on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) when I posted them earlier today. Here is the rest of his response to those who oppose legislation that would prevent businesses that support the BDS movement against Israel from doing business with the State of Maryland. The post got cut in the middle of thought, so I’m afraid the beginning here is a bit abrupt.

[In Israel, g]ays and lesbians serve openly in the military and there are no directives such as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Resolving the challenges of the West Bank are difficult and finding a path toward Palestinian self-determination is fraught with obstacles.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza in 2005 without any assurances of peace from its occupants. Since that time, the governmental authorities in Gaza have been taking tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid and have been using it, not to build new hospitals and schools and to create a homeland, but to purchase tens of thousands of rockets from Iran to be launched against Israeli civilian targets from the decrepit medical facilities and schools that do exist in the Gaza. Millions of dollars are spent to build multiple, sophisticated tunnels into Israel, from which to launch terror raids on children in school buses.

Lesson learned…Israel does not have the luxury of making the same mistake in the West Bank.

The BDS movement is driven by Israel’s enemies who are cleverly using relentless propaganda and lies to manipulate the willing, the naive and the uninformed in a time proven strategy to create enmity toward Jews.

From the blood libel of the Middle Ages, in which Jews were accused of murdering Christian children for ceremonial purposes, to the Protocols of Zion and the government sponsored hate-mongering of Nazi Germany…the playbook of the anti-Semites has remained the same…tell the lie, and continue to repeat the lie often enough until the willing, naive, uninformed and misinformed, whether at a conscious or subliminal level, begin to accept it as fact.

How else can we explain the difference of the pro-BDS advocates total disinterest in the nations that are committing egregious human rights violations (including the beneficiaries of the BDS movement) from the impossible standard, for defending its citizens, they have set for Israel…a standard that has never been applied to any other nation, including that of our own.

Perhaps the efforts of those BDS supporting groups, who claim that they are motivated by a desire for peace, would be better off directing their efforts at convincing the Arab world to stop the formal (and informal) education process, of each generation, to hate the Jews. Maybe, if the governmental authorities of the West Bank and Gaza were willing to accept the right of the Jewish people to live in peace, in their homeland, there might actually be peace in the Middle East.

After thousands of years of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, Jews are no longer playing the role of the willing victim and this undoubtedly has caused angst for those who are more comfortable with the Jew in her/his former role.

Finally, for those who claim that boycotts are a time honored, peaceful means of protest, I completely agree with you.

Yes, the apartheid government of South Africa was rightfully boycotted.

However, the absurd effort to draw parallels between the South African government’s system of apartheid and the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is simply fantastical…but clearly a critical element of the propaganda strategy as the BDS proponents never fail to mention Nelson Mandela and the racist South African regime in their endeavor to confuse and fraudulently link the two movements, to justify BDS.

Those individuals who choose to participate in the discriminatory BDS movement are welcome to do so…that is called freedom of speech.

However, the people of Maryland do not have to see their PUBLIC dollars being used to support such discriminatory behavior, particularly when it undermines Maryland’s policy as articulated in its Declaration of Cooperation with Israel. An agreement which created a cooperative relationship which has benefited the citizens of Maryland and Israel through economic development, tens of millions of dollars in trade, the creation of jobs, as well as, significant achievements through joint scientific and medical research.

Not using public dollars to support discriminatory behavior is also freedom of speech…and as you appropriately pointed out, David…if the boycotters truly believe in the right to boycott…then we should be free to boycott the boycotters.

Like a classic garment carefully folded away in a drawer to be brought out and worn when fashionable again, anti-Semitism is once more all the rage in Europe. Nicely accessorizing it, on this year’s runway, is anti-Zionism. We should resist the urge to emulate the Europeans and reject the misguided, albeit chic, BDS movement fomented by propagandists whose end game has never been the well-being of the Palestinian people, but the destruction of the Jewish homeland and its occupants.

Kramer Calls BDS Movement Anti-Semitic

Last week, several testified at the Montgomery Legislative Priorities Hearing against legislation that would prevent businesses that support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel from doing business with the State of Maryland.

I asked Del. Ben Kramer (D-19) for this thoughts on the hearing and the BDS  movement, as he vocally opposed their agenda at the hearing. Here is his response:

The BDS movement is unequivocally a propaganda tool being utilized by Israel’s enemies to do what they haven’t been able to do militarily, defeat Israel. The goal of the BDS movement is to force a collapse of the Israeli economy, and in doing so, force Israel to withdraw from the small area of land, that Israel has not returned to its Arab neighbors, captured when the Arab nations (yet again) attacked Israel in 1967.

To their credit, Israel’s enemies have done a phenomenal job of rewriting Middle East history to cast Israel as the aggressor in its dealings with the Arab world.

Quickly being forgotten is the fact that the Arab nations have repeatedly unified (a feat in and of itself, because when they are not focused on efforts to rid the Middle East of Jews, they are often caught up in sectarian violence against one another) and launched wars against Israel for decades.

In defending itself, in 1967, Israel captured considerable Arab territory.

However, in a pursuit for peace, Israel has returned 94% of the captured lands to the Arab nations, which attacked Israel.

My question to the BDS supporters, at the hearing, was to name another occasion in the history of the world when a nation that was repeatedly attacked by its neighboring countries, returned the land captured while defending itself, in an effort to achieve peace and stop further military aggression and war.

Additionally, I discussed the egregious human rights violations that are rife throughout the Arab world. More particularly, I quoted the UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, who recently offered the following: “Across the Arab world, people continue to struggle for their fundamental civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The roots of those struggles lie in social injustice, marginalization, and lack of human rights protections.”  He then added: “Unfortunately, intolerance, marginalization, impunity, sectarianism and violence remain significant challenges.”

I further discussed the violent treatment of women, gays and lesbians in the West Bank and Gaza, which is a routine topic of human rights organizations, and that such treatment is not only condoned, but encouraged by the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Furthermore, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas arrest, jail, torture and execute (if suspected of collaborating with Israel) those who dare to openly challenge their governmental authority.

Therefore, my question of the BDS supporters was to identify which of the myriad of Arab countries, with their laundry lists of human rights violations, were they pursuing boycotts, divestment and sanctions against.

The answer was zero, none, nothing . . . not one.

Evidently, the xenophobic Palestinian governmental authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, with their extremist ideologies that call for the relentless pursuit of the destruction of Israel and the death of all Jews in the Middle East, are quite acceptable to those who support the BDS movement.

Apparently, honor killings of wives, daughters and sisters and the treatment of women as chattel, along with intolerance and violence toward the gay and lesbian citizens of Palestinian controlled lands, is of little interest to the ..progressive.. thinkers of pro-BDS.

I then questioned the BDS supporters as to which of the many nations in the world, dominated by despots and dictators, with unspeakable crimes against their own people and horrific human rights violations, were they pursuing a boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against.

Once again, the response was a resounding. . . NONE.

The only nation on this planet that they are trying to bring to financial ruin is the only democratic nation in the region and ..coincidentally.. the only nation on our planet with a majority population of, yes . . . you guessed it . . . Jewsl

And then they have the shameful nerve to be indignant that their actions are being construed, by some, as being rooted in anti-Semitism. Evidently, human rights don’t apply to the right of Jews, in the Middle East, to live in peace.

The glaring hypocrisy of the BDS movement is simply blinding. And a group with the name Jew in the title, that supports the BDS movement against Israel, does not make the movement any less hypocritical.

No one says, not even the Israeli people, that Israel is perfection. Yes, just like with all democratic nations there is room for improvement. However, amongst all of the nations in the region, Israel is the only one where all citizens, including the Arab ones, are free to express their sentiments. Either good, bad or that which is ugly, all are welcome to express their thoughts about Israeli society and the democratically elected officials who govern it.

In fact, just two years ago, the Valedictorian at the most prestigious medical school in Israel was a Muslim Arab woman. This woman would never have had the opportunity to achieve such an accomplishment in the majority of the countries surrounding Israel and who are sworn to Israel’s destruction. Israel is a nation that fully includes women, minorities, Muslims, Christians and the LGBT community at the highest levels of academia, government, industry and business.

Anti-BDS Bill Causes Controversy at Montgomery Priorities Hearing

Several members of the Freedom2Boycott coalition came to testify against legislation that would prevent businesses that support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel from doing business with the State of Maryland.

The legislation is supported by the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington. Thomas Nephew spoke for the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition:

While I personally agree with many of my friends here about boycotting Israeli-based companies, organizations, and institutions because of the Israeli occupation and illegal Israeli settlements, I want to emphasize the wider significance of efforts to officially stigmatize or penalize boycotts. . .

As we saw once with the South Africa divestment campaign, one of the points of free speech is the ability to nonviolently — and victoriously! — challenge the status quo and challenge an outdated consensus.  One of the points of free association is to be able to pick and choose whom we combine efforts with — and conversely, whom we will not support.  Boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are a time-honored, honorable, nonviolent way of doing both.  I hope you will resist all efforts to penalize companies or organizations engaged in such actions.

Indeed, I hope you will go further, and support efforts to explicitly guarantee that political boycott, divestment, or sanctions campaigns can not be penalized by the state of Maryland in any way.  Don’t just oppose using the state pension fund or the university system to chill speech — affirm that the state of Maryland, its counties, and its cities are not and may not be in the business of regulating free speech and free association in the first place.

The problem with this argument is that, if one support strongly the right to boycott, presumably the State is allowed to boycott people who boycott. Clearly, the author doesn’t oppose state boycotts, as he cites the South Africa divestment movement an example–a movement that had promoting governmental sanctions against South Africa as a core goal.

The real heat and light appeared, however, around claims that the BDS movement is justified by Israel’s human rights record. For example, Whit Athey of Peace Action Montgomery said:

If this anti-BDS legislation goes forward in the next session it will be very divisive, particularly to members of the Democratic Party, and it will unnecessarily take up time and resources from productive activities in the legislature.  There are many real priorities for the Montgomery County delegation, which will need the support and attention of the progressive organizations and legislators of the county.  Anti-BDS legislation will distract you from work that is important for the citizens of this state.

Odd for him to stake his horse on opposition to being divisive, since BDS’s efforts are extremely divisive. Athey went on to attack efforts to label the BDS movement as anti-Semitic:

Proponents of the anti-BDS legislation claim that supporters of BDS are anti-Semitic and that the state can’t be seen as supporting anti-Semitism.  This was specifically stated by the Republican governor of Illinois as he signed that state’s legislation.   “We need to stand up to anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we see it,” Gov. Rauner said. This statement is a ridiculous attempt to smear the proponents of BDS.  The people whom you will hear today speak against the anti-BDS legislation have spent most of their adult lives working for human rights and civil rights, and to characterize them as anti-Semitic is the height of specious nonsense.  Jewish people themselves are well represented among those promoting BDS.  Smear tactics are the tools of those whose ideas can’t stand on their own merits.   Furthermore, using the term “anti-Semitic” inappropriately and recklessly for political reasons, trivializes real anti-Semitism and demeans the experience of Jewish people who have suffered from it.

Del. Ben Kramer had a lot of fun with this argument, asking repeated questions about the human rights records of various countries with abysmal human rights records and whether BDS was organizing any boycotts of these regimes.

Israel Election 2015: Likud is Now a Lock

Jeremy’s Knesset Insider informs that not just Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu but the two major religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have ruled out joining a coalition led by Zionist Union and excluding Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. This news takes a Zionist Union-led coalition from a highly unlikely outcome to impossible.

Additionally, the polls indicate that Likud is up 1 seat and Zionist Union down 1 or 2 seats in the polls, though the shift between the various major camps of Israeli politics is smaller. Unlike last week, Likud is the largest party, increasing its claim on government.

The question now is whether Netanyahu will choose a right-wing religious-nationalist coalition or a more centrist coalition with Zionist Union. The current seat math renders either possible. While the right-wing coalition is likely a more natural fit for today’s Likud, there are also real advantages for Netanyahu in the centrist coalition, as I outlined previously.

Israeli Election Forecast: More Netanyahu Likely

Israeli politics is divided along multiple cleavage lines. Americans are most keenly attuned the divide between proponents and opponents of the two-state solution but there are several other divisions that do not always split Israeli society on the same line. Beyond the increasingly powerful between religious and secular Israelis, ethnic divisions between Askhenazim and Sephardim persist. Of course, the Arab minority has its own internal divisions.

Latest Developments

Israeli parties move fast, especially during election campaigns, and there have been two developments since last week’s post. First, Avigdor Lieberman has ruled out the possibility of Yisrael Beitenu joining a coalition led by Zionist Union. Second, Eli Yishai has hooked up his tiny breakaway party from Shas (Ha’am Itanu) with MK Yoni Chetboun, who quit Bayit Yehudi, into a new list called Yachad (Together). Yachad will run on a joint list with extreme right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) under the Yachad name.

Current Polls

Leaving aside these latest last minute hookups before the deadline for finalizing lists, the key question is whether incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his opponents will possess enough strength in the 120-member Knesset to form a coalition. (Check out Jeremy’s Knesset Insider for polls and more analysis.)

Here is the average predicted seats from last week’s gaggle of polls according to Jeremy:

25.2 Zionist Union
24.4 Likud
14.7 Bayit Yehudi
12.0 United Arab List
09.4 Yesh Atid
07.7 Kulanu
07.1 United Torah Judaism
07.1 Shas
05.4 Yisrael Beitenu
05.3 Meretz
03.3 Yachad

Netanyahu starts out with a good base of 39-43 seats from his own party and close allies. His Likud party has been polling around 24 seats. Bayit Yehudi, an even more right-wing party, has little choice but to support Netanyahu and is on course to gain about 15 mandates. If Yachad makes it past the 3.25% threshold, he will contribute another 4 seats to a Netanyahu coalition.

Bibi can get to the magic 61 MKs in a number of ways. First, he can join up with the two major religious parties: Shas, and UTJ. They exist to be in government, as otherwise they cannot threaten to leave it to gain more funding for their schools or to block anti-religious legislation.

Adding on either Yisrael Beitenu or Kulanu–and more likely both would join–would put him over the top. This right-religious coalition would resemble previous right-wing coalitions, such as the one led by Yitzhak Shamir. It would be reasonably cohesive, though only by the standards of Israeli politics.

The core anti-Bibi Zionist parties–Zionist Camp (Labor and Hatnuah), Yesh Atid, and Merez–together start with a relatively impressive 40 seats. The problems start when one tries to add on other parties to get to 61. Think of it as being like junior high where A won’t talk or sit next to B unless C isn’t there.

While Shas and UTJ usually prefer right-wing governments, they will also join left-wing governments, as they too can provide access to the state treasury. However, it is hard to imagine the diehard secular Yesh Atid sitting in government with Shas or UTJ.

Similarly, United Arab List will never support Bibi. But it also likely would not support any coalition formed by Zionist parties. Excepting possibly Meretz, the Zionist parties reciprocate the feeling because of concerns regarding security–always a central issue in Israel–and being close to anti-Israel Arab MKs like Haneen Zoabi, which would alienate the Jewish center.

Opposition parties would pounce, claiming that a coalition dependent on United Arab List MKs cannot defend Jewish interests in negotiations with the Palestinians. In short, United Arab List can help keep Netanyahu out but it is not clear that they would or could serve in government. (Note: UAL has one Jewish MK and Arab MKs also win off of predominantly Jewish lists.)

Finally, adding Kulanu would not bring a Zionist Camp-Yesh Atid-Meretz coalition even above 50 without either the religious or Arab parties. Thought the left has performed better in recent polls, a left-led government is still much harder to envision than a right-wing one led by Netanyahu.

Disunity Government

Finally, Likud and Zionist Camp could join up to form a “unity” government. Together with Kulanu and various other willing participants, it could easily possess far more than 61 votes. This would give Netanyahu the opportunity to give Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett the old heave-ho. Even better for Netanyahu, either Yitzhak Herzog or Tzipi Livni would become foreign minister, likely easing the building European pressure on Israel and the current discord with the Obama administration.

In some ways, this seems the most likely combination due to the opportunities it provides Netanyahu and many others. But either this or another right-wing government feels like a rerun of earlier Israeli government reality shows.

Wild Card: The Threshold

Israel has always had very low thresholds to enter parliament. The last Knesset raised it, however, from 2% to 3.25%. Three parties–Yachad, Meretz, and Yisrael Beitenu, face serious danger of failing to pass it and receiving no seats. Any failure by them would redound to the benefit of other parties.

If Meretz made it past the threshold but Yachad and Yisrael Beitenu fell short, it would be a great boon to the left, as right-wing voters will have wasted a disproportionate number of votes. Of course, the reverse could also occur.

Another reason Israel’s election night in March will be fun to watch.

Israeli Election 2015: Guide for the Perplexed

Monty Python on Israeli Politics

I don’t know much about the current highly interesting politics of the Montgomery County School Board. (Fortunately, Lou Peck over at Bethesda Magazine does). However, Israeli politics are famously fractious and complex, so I thought it could be useful to present this guide to the lists competing in March’s Knesset elections. (Note: as with everything involving Israel, someone invariably with vehemently disagree. This is my take.)

The System

Israelis elect MKs (Members of the Knesset) off of closed party lists within a single national district by the d’Hondt method of proportional representation. Parties must receive 3.25% of the vote to qualify for seats–up from 2% at the time of the last election. Put another way, seats are distributed proportionally to parties above the threshold, though d’Hondt (called Bader-Ofer in Israel) has a  bias toward larger parties.

Left-Wing Zionist

The major left-wing Zionist parties favor the two-state solution and fall on the secular side of the secular/religious divide. Their other key commonality is that none would join a Netanyahu government, even though all but Meretz have in the past.

A coalition of Labor and Hatnuah, Zionist Union is the major mainstream left list. Labor was Israeli’s dominant party for decades after independence in 1948. No more. It came in third in the 2013 elections. Labor continues its struggle to reinvent itself, mainly by focusing on bread-and-butter economic issues. Appealing to Sephardim remains a problem for this party identified with its historically Ashkenazi leadership.

Hatnuah (The Movement) has an unintentionally ironic name as the party is really Tzipi Livni’s one woman show. Originally a member of Likud and then centrist Kadima, Livni continues her hegira to the left by forming an alliance with Labor. Hatnuah is most closely identified with support for peace negotiations and the two-state solution.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) was traditional flash in the pan success story in 2013–Israeli elections nearly always feature one–and is expected to lose roughly one-half of its MKs in March. While favoring the two-state solution, this center left party (i.e. to Labor’s right) is more known for its strident support of secularism and focus on economic issues.

Strongly dovish and secular, Meretz (Vigor or Energy) is the most clearly left-wing primarily Jewish party. Heavily Ashkenazi, Meretz has had trouble broadening its support.

Right-Wing Zionist

These parties range from center right (Kulanu) to the extreme right (Bayit Yehudi). Excepting Kulanu, none would join a coalition led by Labor/Zionist Camp.

The leader of the mainstream right, Likud (Unity) has moved steadily rightward. Mirroring the RINO phenomenon in the US, the party has dumped party stalwarts like Dan Meridor–someone hardly identified with the left–for more right-wing candidates. As a result, Netanyahu now is among the most left-wing Likud MKs. Historically, Likud has received more support from Sephardim.

Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) is a very successful extreme right party that favors settlements and opposes the two-state solution. This religious (but not Haredi) nationalist party has experienced growing success under tech businessman Naftali Bennett, whose ambition is to displace his former boss–Netanyahu–as PM.

Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) is led by Avigdor Lieberman and appeals foremost to Russian immigrants. Lieberman is well-known for his anti-Arab comments and hawkish views. However, he has taken a new tack in this election in suggesting that it could be time for Netanyahu to go and that Israeli needs a peace deal. Mired in a corruption scandal, Yisrael Beitenu will lose seats this year.

A former Likud minister best known for having brought down cell phone costs, Moshe Kahlon founded Kulanu (All of Us) for the 2015 election. Expected to be this year’s flash in the pan party, the polls suggest that Kulanu is steadily losing support, though it should still enter the Knesset. Much like Yesh Atid, it focuses on middle class concerns and leans secular.

Religious Parties

The religious parties are most keenly interested in funding for their school systems and religious observance (e.g. preventing El Al from flying on Shabbat). They bitterly opposed the narrowing of draft exemptions for yeshiva students.

Shas is the major Sephardic religious party but has now split into two parts due to the defection of former leader Eli Yishai. The party is now led by Aryeh Deri, who suffered recent embarrassment upon the release of tapes showing Shas’ spiritual leader, the now deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, criticizing him. Deri served time in prison for corruption while he was Interior Minister. Shas has usually taken a more right-wing stand on the conflict but seems more open to aligning with the left under Deri’s leadership.

Ha’am Itanu (The Nation is with Us) is Eli Yishai’s new party. Unlike Shas, it would only join a right-wing coalition. At this point, it’s unclear if the party can pass Israel’s new, higher 3.25% threshold to enter the Knesset.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the Ashkenazi religious party, unites two Haredi (i.e. very strictly Orthodox) parties, Degel HaTorah (Torah Flag) and Agudat Israel (Union of Israel). While Agudat gains its support from Hasidic Jews, Degel HaTorah receives support from non-Hasidic Haredi Jews associated with the Lithuanian yeshivas.

Arab Parties

The new 3.25% threshold has forced the three major Arab lists to unite in order to evade the possibility that one of more of them might fall short of the necessary share of the vote. United Arab List encompasses Hadash, Balad (National Democratic Assembly), and Ra’am-Ta’al (the eponymous United Arab List).

Hadash is rooted in the Communist Party and claims to be the only bicommunal party. Balad supports the two-state solution with Israel being a binational state. United Arab List brings together the Islamic Ra’am with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al.

Next Up: To Bibi or Not to Bibi.

 

Progressive Neighbors Debates Maryland’s Foreign Policy

Lots of issues came up at the Progressive Neighbors Forum in Takoma Park yesterday but the issue that generated the most heat was American Studies Association boycott (ASA) of Israeli scholarly institutions.

Two bills have been cross-filed in the Maryland General Assembly directed at undermining the ASA boycott. Montgomery Del. Ben Kramer has filed HB 998 with a number of cosponsors: Delegates Barkley, Barve, Bates, Boteler, Cardin, Cluster, Costa, Cullison, Eckardt, Frank, Fraser, Hidalgo, Frick, Gaines, Gilchrist, Glenn, Haddaway, Riccio, Hogan, Hucker, Impallaria, Jacobs, Kach, Kaiser, A. Kelly, Kipke, Lafferty, Luedtke, McComas, McConkey, W. Miller, Morhaim, Myers, Olszewski, Otto, Pendergrass, Ready, Reznik, B. Robinson, S. Robinson, Rosenberg, Serafini, Simmons, Stein, Stocksdale, Szeliga, Valderrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, M. Washington, Weir, Wood, and Zucker.  Due to timing, Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway did not have time to seek cosponsors for the parallel bill in the Senate, SB 647.

Peace Action Montgomery distributed flyers at the forum (see page 1 above with 2 and 3 below) arguing strongly against the bill as unconstitutional and just plain wrong. Although many in the audience opposed the bill–no one in the audience expressed support–the bill is not on Progressive Neighbors’ very lengthy priority list.

Sen. Roger Manno was in the line of fire at the meeting. He attacked the boycott and defended the bill’s central goal in the Washington Jewish Week:

In an interview after the hearing Manno explained, “My responsibility as a lawmaker and as a member of the Senate budget and taxation committee, which writes that check, is to ensure that the dollars are spent wisely and that it reflects the values of our community. … And we don’t support [the boycott that the ASA is supporting].”

The same article notes that UMBC has issued a statement condemning the ASA boycott, as have many academic institutions.

There is a certain irony to Peace Action Montgomery’s opposition to the bill. The boycott’s proponents handed out flyers lauding the long history of boycotts to promote social justice from India to South Africa . . . in order to condemn the proposal that the State of Maryland boycott ASA as a statement in support of its view of a more just world.

Thought experiment: What would Peace Action Montgomery’s response be to a proposed ASA boycott of HBCUs?

The arguments that the bill violates academic freedom are specious. The proposed legislation would not ban any professor from supporting ASA’s boycott, attending ASA conferences, or membership in ASA. It just wouldn’t permit Maryland institutions to pay for it. Universities regularly decide which scholarly activities they deem worthy of support. We may not agree with them but the State has a right to decide how to spend its money and which endeavors to support.

In political science, we are experiencing this up close. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Coburn successfully amended the bill that funds the National Science Foundation so that grants may only go to proposals that aid national security. As you might suspect, this has not gone down well with most political scientists. But no one questions its constitutionality or claims it violates the First Amendment.

This issue has a profound potential to alienate Jewish Democrats and other supporters of Israel. I believe heavy majorities of Jewish Democrats strongly support, even yearn for, a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry is working doggedly to address the real barriers to a workable and lasting peace despite extreme difficulties. Nonetheless, ASA’s efforts to isolate Israel offend deeply and undercut them. Jews may not be unanimous on this issue (we seem incapable of it; just watch either the Knesset or Life of Brian) but the vast majority strongly oppose efforts to boycott Israel.

Not to mention that Israeli universities are often the center of efforts to build peace within Israel, which makes one suspect that the academic body of scholars focused on studying America perhaps doesn’t know too much about it. Regardless, I imagine that I am not the only one amazed at the idea that the world awaits with bated breath the opinion of academic organizations on various issues of the day, particularly those completely outside that organization’s area of expertise. (OK: irony of blog-writing academic condemning pronouncements on issues of the day by academics is duly noted.)

Jews are passionate for peace and for Israel. Trying to make them choose is a losing strategy. I don’t think legislators or candidates are going to find it easy to straddle this issue.