To Peter Beinart: We pro-BDS Jews Are Just as Much Part of the Jewish People as You Are

(first published on Haaretz)

The stories of Jewish students who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel until it ends its violations of Palestinian rights are often painful stories of exclusion from the Jewish community.
They tell me, in my capacity as Campus Coordinator with the pro-BDS organization Jewish Voice for Peace, that they can no longer attend Shabbat at Hillel without facing steely stares and cold shoulders from staff; that the rabbi of their synagogue back home devoted his entire Rosh Hashanah sermon to the “evils of the BDS movement”; that they can’t attend a family gathering without someone calling them a self-hating Jew.

But there’s another kind of story they tell me as well.  A wave of anti-occupation freshmen and sophomores just joined their JVP chapter; the president of their Hillel board just publicly criticized the occupation, and called for JVP to be given a seat at the table; their old friend from Hebrew school confessed in a private message that she, too, supports BDS as a tool to achieve justice for Palestinians, but is afraid to say so publicly.

With this growing engagement, and the Jewish establishment’s frenzied counterattack, a seismic shift is occurring in the American Jewish community. The old consensus is crumbling, and a new Jewish world is emerging.

So when liberal columnist Peter Beinart told me recently in Haaretz that Jews like me have broken ‘the bonds of peoplehood’ by embracing BDS, I heard an assertion that reflects the consensus of the old Jewish world, not the contours of the new. In Beinart’s view, while pro-BDS Jews like me do indeed hold strong Jewish identities and build robust Jewish communities, the fact remains that we have broken sharply with the mainstream Jewish communal consensus.

For embracing a call for solidarity from Palestinians who experience daily violence from the Israeli state, we are denounced from the local synagogue bimah, denied jobs at the local JCRC, and ridiculed around the local mah-jongg table. We have prioritized our ethical values over the commandment, in Beinart’s words, to ‘protect other Jews’. And for making this choice, we have excommunicated ourselves from klal Yisrael (the Jewish collective).

But whose ‘peoplehood’ have we broken, exactly? Who determines the boundaries of what Beinart calls the collective ‘family’? Mainstream synagogues, with their ‘We Stand With Israel’ banners facing the street and Israeli flags adorning the bimah, are struggling to find members under the age of 50. In many places, a growing majority of Jews don’t pass through the doors of their community JCRC or their campus Hillel. For a variety of reasons, institutions like these have for decades been inaccessible not only to pro-BDS Jews, but to queer Jews, Jews of color, Jews from interfaith families, working-class Jews, disabled Jews, and many others.

More and more Jews today are leaving establishment Jewish institutions: they are flocking to independent minyanim, alternative havurahs and DIY ritual spaces across the country. In these heterogenous alternative spaces, they find not only many Jews who are against the occupation, but also many Jews who support BDS. Spaces like these, and organizations like JVP, are striving to create exactly what yesterday’s withering institutions cannot- a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, intergenerational, interfaith community centered around Jewish values of justice.

What we see today is a phenomenon that has repeated itself throughout Jewish history- a movement of Jewish dissidents, who started agitating at the margins, have begun to transform the center of Jewish life. This should not surprise us. Jewish history, after all, is a tapestry woven through vibrant dissent, marked by passionate disagreement, shaped by outsiders and outcasts.

To name but one example among many: the Zionist movement, for the first decades of its existence, was viewed as dangerous and marginal by most Jewish communities where it attempted to take root. Religious Jews warned that it uprooted Jews from Torah; liberal Jews warned that it uprooted Jews from the nations in which they strove to become full citizens; leftist Jews warned that it uprooted Jews from the movements for workers’ rights, social equality and national autonomy then sweeping the globe. Like pro-BDS Jews today, Zionists were seen by most, in the early decades of their emergence, as challenging Jewish unity, and even as encouraging physical and existential threats to the Jewish people.

The truth is that we, the Jewish people, have not moved through history as a compact and homogenous entity, bound by stable borders. Rather, we are marked ‘from time immemorial’ by passionate, often foundation-shattering internal struggle. The boundaries and contours of our peoplehood are always in dynamic flux, and we are often propelled forward by outsider ideologies that, at first, are profoundly threatening to the majority. Things change. Ideas that, in one era, appear antithetical to our continuity as a community, later emerge as celebrated norms.

Today, the American Jewish community is at a tipping point. There are growing numbers of Jews like me who support BDS as a strategic, accountable, nonviolent way to participate in the movement for justice for Palestinians, and a growing community of anti-occupation Jews who respect the use of those tactics even when their activism takes different forms.
Those who are trying to expel us beyond the bonds of peoplehood are clinging to a status quo that is shifting under their feet. We know these bonds to be more elastic, this peoplehood more expansive, and this community more capable of transformation than they believe.  Just as yesterday’s Jews would be shocked to see that it is considered more heretical for Jews today to question the State of Israel than to question belief in God, tomorrow’s Jews will inhabit a community that, to today’s mainstream, appears equally unrecognizable.

Those of us Jews who support the tactics of BDS are not simply choosing to prioritize our ethical values over Jewish unity. Rather, we are working to transform our Jewish communities into ones that reflect our values. Pro-BDS Jews like me are not here to free Palestinians, or tell them how to free themselves. As we see it, our work is to align our community with a call for justice from Palestinians, and to contribute to the growing, diverse movement for equality and freedom.

 

Yes, Pro-BDS Jews are Part of Jewish Communities Too

(first published at Jewschool)

As a pro-BDS Jewish millennial, I was sad and angry last week when I learned that the Bernie Sanders campaign had suspended Simone Zimmerman, J Street U leader, anti-occupation activist and co-founder of IfNotNow, from her new position on the campaign as Jewish Outreach Coordinator. Jews like me may disagree with her politically around issues like BDS, but we know what it’s like to be excluded and silenced by the mainstream Jewish community, and an attack on her is an attack on all of us.

But when I read Peter Beinart’s defense of Zimmerman in Haaretz yesterday, I was angered once again by what he said about Jews like me. Like Zimmerman, Beinart is solidly pro-Israel, but sharply critical of Israel’s occupation, settlement building, and discrimination against Palestinians. And like Zimmerman, Beinart usually argues that young Jews like me should not be demonized and pushed away from the Jewish community, but should be respected, and argued with, as equals.

That’s why I was dismayed to see that, even as he defended Jews like Zimmerman, Beinart threw Jews like me under the bus. In his piece, Beinart claims that, when it comes to Israel, American Jewish millennials can be divided into four groups- the apathetic and assimilated, the staunchly pro-Israel, the liberal Zionist, and the pro-BDS, sometimes anti-Zionist Jews like myself. According to Beinart, of the latter two groups, it is the liberal Zionists- his preferred camp- who grew up solidly within the folds of the American Jewish community, where they were conditioned to ‘check their liberalism at Zionism’s door’ when talking about Israel. In Beinart’s world, it is these liberal Zionists who, having today seen the reality of Palestinian suffering, are critical of Israel’s occupation, but still maintain a strong allegiance to the Jewish people, an allegiance that causes them not to jump ship but to engage, to become rabbis and to form independent minyanim, to change the Jewish community from within.

And then, for Beinart, there’s my community- the ‘smaller but growing’ group of

“younger American Jews who see Israel primarily through Palestinian eyes. They reject Zionism and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement because, for them, being Jewish is not about the bonds of peoplehood. It’s about standing with the oppressed. They care little about the mainstream Jewish community. Their community is the activist left.”

Here and throughout the rest of the article, Beinart claims, implicitly and directly, that pro-BDS and anti-Zionist Jews like me have checked our Jewishness at BDS’s door. He is dangerously wrong. In my role as Campus Coordinator with Jewish Voice for Peace- a pro-BDS organization that does not take a position on Zionism- I work day after day with hundreds of young Jewish pro-BDS and, in some cases, anti-Zionist college students and millennials across the country who are passionately dedicated to living Jewish lives, and changing a Jewish community that we want to call home.

For most of us, Jewish identity is front and center in our lives, our communities and our activism. Maybe our families were totally secular, and we built our Jewish identities and communities later in college. Or maybe we went to shul and Jewish day school, became b’nai mitzvah, went to Jewish summer camp, were raised in Jewish youth movements and, like Zimmerman, were trained in Israel advocacy before college. Or maybe we didn’t, because we couldn’t. While Beinart proudly displayed a list of institutions like these to show Jewish readers that Zimmerman is ‘one of us’, those of us from interfaith families, from families of color, from non-Ashkenazi families, from working-class families, or from queer families, to name but a few marginalized groups within the Jewish community, may never have had much access to these Jewish institutions at all. There is something inherently problematic, in fact, in using participation in the often inaccessible mainstream institutions of American Jewish life as a yardstick to measure the ‘kosherness’ of Jews, millenial or otherwise.

But nearly all of us, affiliated or not, anti-Zionist or not, strongly reject the claim that for us, ‘being Jewish is not about the bonds of peoplehood’, that we are leftists before we are Jews, that we choose BDS over Jewish community, or that we check our Jewish selves at the door when we join the movement for BDS and Palestinian rights. We fight for BDS because we, in fact, are pained deeply by the present, and care deeply about the future, of the Jewish people. We are pained to see our families, and the synagogues we grew up in, circle their wagons, dig their trenches and hitch their lot to a regime of occupation and apartheid.

We study our history of suffering and resistance, and we are pained to see occupation and state violence committed in our names, and in the name of persecuted Jews who came before us. If we identify as anti-Zionist- which I personally do- it’s because we are proud Jews who believe that Jewish liberation, safety, identity and continuity cannot be guaranteed through ethno-nationalism, through the separation of our destiny and our struggle from that of other peoples, through the colonization of others’ land. We are pained to see Beinart, and nearly everyone else to the right of him, excommunicate us from the Jewish communal tent with the tired excuse that it is we who, in our embrace of BDS, have chosen to sever the ‘bonds of Jewish peoplehood’.

Contrary to Beinart’s claims, being on the left is not a ‘sufficient Jewish identity’ for most of us. Many of us found a home in mainstream Jewish spaces like Hillel, until we were painfully excluded for our political beliefs. Many of us still stay in Hillel, and have to hide our full Jewish selves in those hostile anti-BDS spaces. Many of us build our own Jewish communities at the margins, in spaces like JVP and congregations like Tzedek Chicago, in independent minyanim, queer chavrusas and radical Shabbat potlucks across the country. For some of us, it is our participation in the BDS movement, in fact, that first leads us to begin to pay attention to our Jewish heritage, and to develop lasting and committed Jewish identities. The choices Beinart and others force upon us- between ‘feeling the bonds of Jewish peoplehood’ and ‘feeling solidarity with the oppressed’, between seeing the conflict ‘through Palestinian eyes’ and ‘caring about the Jewish community’- are choices we reject as false and shameful dichotomies.

What Beinart fails to grasp is that for those of us who remain committed to Jewish life, we do not have to choose between strong Jewish communities on the one hand, and strong multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-people communities on the other. Our lives are expansive enough to cultivate Jewish spaces (which are themselves racially and culturally diverse), and to remain deeply embedded in the culturally, racially and religiously diverse spaces that Beinart calls the ‘activist left’. Our Jewish identity is informed by, but is not equivalent to our leftism, and vice versa. You will sometimes find non-Jews in our ritual spaces, and you will find us in theirs. Our distinct identities are multiple and overlapping, and we reject both assimilation and isolationism. Our Jewish communities are porous, open, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and in close relationships of accountability with other peoples. In a world divided by many oppressions, we cannot afford anything less.

To be fair, a few of the students I work with do fit Beinart’s mold. Like many Jewish activists of our parents’ generation, Jewish identity for some pro-BDS Jewish millennials is something personal but not necessarily communal, often deeply felt but sometimes an afterthought, lurking in the background as their primary identity and community remains, as Beinart describes, the activist left. Some of these folks grew up with a strong family affiliation to mainstream Jewish institutions, but many did not. Their Jewish identity is often strong for them, but Beinart is right to observe that, for these Jews, it is not how they principally define themselves, and does not drive them to seek out Jewish communities.

Why does Beinart paint Jewish pro-BDS millenials like me as detached from Jewish communal life and identity? Maybe he wants to portray liberal Zionists like Simone Zimmerman as the ‘good Jews’ who still care about the Jewish people, and so, as a foil, he needs to characterize us as the ‘non-Jewish Jews’ who don’t. But not only is that inaccurate and offensive, it makes a mockery of the very values of inclusion he claims to cherish and admire. The power and promise of IfNotNow, the anti-occupation movement started by Zimmerman and other former J Street U students, is that, so far at least, it brings pro- and anti-BDS Jews, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews together in a broad community of prayer and song, resistance and struggle against communal complicity in the occupation. By placing Jews like me outside the ‘bonds of Jewish peoplehood’ and claiming we are post-Jewish universalists who don’t care about the Jewish community, Beinart reinforces the very divisions and exclusions he praises millennials like Zimmerman for breaking down.

We’re not asking or waiting for Peter Beinart, or anyone across the spectrum of the organized pro-Israel American Jewish community, to certify us as kosher. With each passing day pro-BDS Jewish millennials like me are organizing new independent Jewish spaces of learning and worship, inventing new ritual, and acting Jewishly with JVP, IfNotNow, Open Hillel and other movements. We are in rabbinical school, and we are rabbis. We are teachers in Hebrew School, and counselors in Jewish summer camp. We too recite Kaddish outside of, and sometimes occupy, Jewish Federation buildings- in fact, we’ve been doing it for years- because we care deeply about our collective Jewish future. This Pesach, we’ll put olives and oranges on our Seder plates, and drink to our collective liberation.

And Peter Beinart is right that, as the BDS movement accelerates in the larger world, our movement of young pro-BDS Jews is growing in the American Jewish community. We’re not going anywhere, and we’re here to stay. And there are more of us than he may think.

In Max Blumenthal’s ‘The 51 Day War’, Life in Gaza Looks Bleak, But Resistance Is Growing

(originally published at In these Times)

When American journalist Max Blumenthal arrived in the Gaza Strip on August 14, 2014, it was the 38th day of Israel’s bombardment of the coastal enclave. By the time Operation Protective Edge ended on August 26, over 2,100 Palestinians had been killed, including more than 1,500 civilians and over 500 children, and over 10,000 wounded. With more than 7,000 homes destroyed and 10,000 more severely damaged by Israeli bombing, approximately 30 percent of the 1.8 million residents of Gaza were internally displaced, with hundreds of thousands needing emergency food assistance and seeking shelter in UN-run schools.

Blumenthal’s new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, lays bare some of the names, faces and experiences behind these statistics, and stands both as a harrowing account of the destruction wrought by the Israeli army, and a testament to the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people. The book takes us inside the halls of hospitals overflowing with wounded patients and the corpses of innocent adults and children; through the streets of shell-shocked cities and towns, flooded with refugees dodging shrapnel, frantically searching for loved ones and fleeing for safety; and across the blood-stained courtyards of UN schools scorched and decimated by Israeli airstrikes.

Flipping through the pages of The 51 Day War, the reader is confronted by countless atrocities. A teenager sobs as he speaks of his brother, a bright accounting student killed by an Israeli sniper as he searched for missing family members in the rubble of his home. Another man describes witnessing an Israeli soldier execute an elderly neighbor, without explanation, in front of terrified and captive onlookers. A family tells how, under Israeli bombardment, they took to the streets and fled their neighborhood engulfed in flames, illuminating the way with cell phone flashlights as all around them, homes crumbled and civilians perished under Israeli shelling.

During the 51 days of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli army fired 3 million bullets into the densely populated Gaza Strip—almost two per resident—and dropped around 20,000 tons of explosives, equivalent to one of the atomic bombs dropped by the US on Japan in 1945. Israeli forces attacked hospitals, ambulances and medical staff, power generation and water supply infrastructure, cemeteries, commercial centers, schools used by the UN to shelter civilians and even multistory residential buildings in downtown Gaza City that housed the backbone of the Strip’s media workers and middle class. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the scale of damage from Operation Protective Edge was unprecedented since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

Throughout the book, moments of humanity shine through the surreal fog of death and destruction. As Blumenthal sits with a family atop the rubble of their destroyed home, an elderly neighbor rushes into his dilapidated house and returns to the foreigner with grapes and ice-cold water. At every turn, the stark tragedy wrought by Israel’s destruction is presented simply, needing no embellishment. As Blumenthal wanders away from a press conference organized by the defiant al-Qassam resistance brigades—the military wing of Hamas—and “into the blacked-out streets of Shujaiya, which were lit only by the light of cellphones and piles of broken furniture set aflame, … a dozen young men stood around in silence, staring at the bonfire and the shadows that danced against the pockmarked walls of the homes they used to live in.” Blumenthal allows these young men and women of Gaza to speak.

Since 2007, Israel’s land, air and sea blockade has turned the 140 square mile strip, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, into what British Prime Minister David Cameron once referred to as an “open-air prison.” An internationally condemned act of collective punishment, Israel’s siege effectively seals the strip, denying its 1.8 million inhabitants of freedom of movement; causing constant water, cooking gas, fuel and electricity shortages; crippling the economy; and severely restricting the import of much-needed food, clothing, livestock and construction materials.

Throughout The 51 Day War, Blumenthal depicts the everyday impact of this siege upon Gazans: a doctor struggles in a vastly underequipped hospital to treat the dying and wounded; displaced persons line up for UN rations; a breakdancing troupe from Nusseirat Refugee Camp asks Blumenthal to run to Tel Aviv and bring them back turntables and a mixer; a student blogger yearns for the visa she needs to see the world and study abroad.

In his last book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, Blumenthal took readers into the religious-nationalist underbelly of Israeli society, laying bare the web of expansionist politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders, xenophobic public figures and war-crazy citizens undergirding Israel’s seismic shift to the right. Though the bulk of The 51 Day War focuses on the people of Gaza, Blumenthal also shines his scathing spotlight, again, upon the violent forces sending Israeli society lurching towards fascism.

As the war unfolds, Blumenthal chronicles popular Israeli rappers working alongside far-right politicians to stir up nationalist sentiment and call for attacks on leftists and anti-war demonstrators. He writes of religious military commanders like Col. Ofer Winter who boast that Israel’s “warriors” are “protected by clouds … of divine honor” as they “shreded” Palestinian civilian homes and infrastructure. He also interviews Israeli leftists, caught off guard by the unprecedented surge of far-right street violence, who organize underground self-defense trainings to protect themselves.

While opinion polls showed Israeli citizens strongly backed the assault on Gaza—some actually dragging lawnchairs up to hilltops to watch and cheer on the bombardment of Palestinian homes in Gaza—hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the world to demand an end to Israel’s attack. In Chicago, home to perhaps the largest population of Palestinian immigrants in the country, thousands of people flooded the streets of downtown multiple times a week for massive demonstrations led by a coalition of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim groups. In a slew of direct actions throughout the city, Jewish and anti-war groups (including Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, where I work) disrupted pro-Israel fundraisers and rallies, occupied the corporate headquarters of war profiteer Boeing and more.

Such sentiment shows that while Israeli civil society may be sliding ever further to the right, Israel has become more and more isolated internationally—a trend likely to accelerate after the recent re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alongside perhaps the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history.

Today, Gaza’s poverty rate remains at 70%, its unemployment rate has risen to 44%—the highest in the world, and much higher for youth aged 20 to 24—and its infrastructure remains severely damaged, with donor countries failing to deliver $5.4 billion in promised rebuilding aid. As facts on the ground worsen for Palestinians, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation continues to gain momentum.

First called for by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 and modeled after the 1980s global boycott movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa, the BDS movement has in recent months caused multinational corporations profiting from Israel’s occupation to lose billions in lucrative contracts, led the push for the labeling of settlement products entering the EU, compelled celebrity artists like Lauryn Hill to cancel concerts in Israel, and more.

In America—the country, as Blumenthal repeatedly reminds his readers, that replenished Israel’s weapons stocks during Operation Protective Edge, and just approved another massive $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel—advocacy groups closely aligned with the Israeli government are pushing national and state legislation designed to fight the BDS movement and scrambling to stamp out a groundswell of support for BDS on college campuses. In the past year alone, a record 15 universities have adopted resolutions demanding that college funds divest from Israel, while on countless more campuses, chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have educated thousands of students about Israel’s occupation and the call for BDS.

In the pages of The 51 Day War, Blumenthal shows that, in the hearts and minds of everyday Gazans, the Palestinian liberation movement is alive and well, animated by values common to anti-colonial struggles throughout history—values like sumud (steadfastness), fidaa (sacrifice/redemption), and ebaa (stubbornness in the face of power). His reporting makes clear that in Gaza—where a six-year-old child has already lived through three Israeli bombardments—the situation is bleak, but the resistance is strong.

Illinois Bill Would Ban State Pension Funds from Divesting from Israel

(originally published at In These Times)

 

As Illinois public workers struggle to protect their underfunded pensions from seizure by Governor Rauner and austerity-minded politicians across the political spectrum, Springfield legislators have devised a way to further politicize the pension debate—this time, by using it to shield Israel from the grassroots momentum of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian human rights.

With the unanimous passage of Illinois House Bill 4011 and Senate Bill 1761, Illinois’s five state pension funds would be forced to divest from any company that publicly supports or engages in a boycott against the state of Israel. SB 1761 was proposed by State Senator Ira Silverstein, a strongly pro-Israel Chicago Democrat who last year sponsored unsuccessful legislation calling on state university presidents to publicly condemn academic boycotts of Israel. Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, another Chicago sponsor of the bill, declared “if you’re going to boycott Israel, an ally of the United States, a democracy in the Middle East, then we are going to divest from you.” Governor Rauner, who during his 2014 campaign criticized Pat Quinn’s “pattern of silence” around BDS and pledged to “always stand squarely … in strong support of the state of Israel,” has endorsed the bill.

As Springfield moves to align the anti-worker agenda of pension reform with the anti-Palestinian agenda of American foreign policy, thousands of activists on college campuses, in religious institutions and across a broad swath of international social movements continue to embrace BDS as an effective tactic to put nonviolent pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestine. Begun in 2005 as a declaration from 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations, the BDS movement calls on the world community to boycott and divest from companies that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, and apply sanctions to pressure Israel to end its occupation, grant equal rights to its Palestinian citizens and respect and promote the UN-stipulated right of refugees to return to their homes and properties.

Though Illinois will become the first state in the nation to divest from companies that support Israeli boycotts if the bill is signed by Gov. Rauner, it will join other state and federal bodies in a coordinated pushback against BDS. Last month, Indiana and Tennessee state legislators passed legislation formally opposing BDS. In California, where non-binding divestment resolutions have passed in student governments across the public university system and an academic workers union, state senators are pushing for legislation that seeks to stifle campus debate by equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

“Israel advocacy groups like AIPAC, and the Jewish Federation in the case of the Illinois bill, are pushing legislation to bolster their attacks against free speech and time-honored civil rights tactics like boycott movements,” says Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “These pieces of legislation, if passed, would not affect individuals’ ability to advocate for BDS on campuses or in other spaces—that would be plainly unconstitutional. …  They do, however, serve to intimidate and deter supporters of BDS and companies that would consider making ethical business decisions by making clear that the state or the federal government disapproves of such a viewpoint or activity.”

At the federal level, U.S. Senators surprised the American public last month by quietly slipping an anti-BDS amendment into the controversial “Fast-Track” Trade Promotion Authority, a piece of legislation soon to come to a vote before the House and Senate that will streamline Congressional approval of disastrous international trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This amendment, along with similar House legislation introduced in March, would allow the U.S. to use international trade negotiations to pressure foreign companies not to engage in “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.” As the U.S. negotiates with the EU over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), it seeks to pressure the EU, which recently cut funding to institutions in Israeli settlements and attempted to label all settlement product imports, to reverse its gestures towards BDS.

Rejecting longstanding U.S. policy and international law, both the federal Fast Track amendment and Illinois SB-1761 discourage boycotts not only against “the State of Israel” or “companies based in the State of Israel”, but against companies based “in territories controlled by the State of Israel” as well. This fails to distinguish between Israel and the territories it has illegally occupied since 1967.

“By helping Israel strengthen its settlement enterprise in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and maintain its siege on the Gaza Strip, these bills stand in the way of justice and equality for Palestinians and true safety and security for Israelis,” says Rabbi Joseph Berman, federal policy organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace. “They also stand against the international community and American public, both of whom overwhelmingly support an end to Israel’s occupation.”

In the month of May alone, BDS made headlines around the world when Lauryn Hill canceled a show in Israel, and the Brazilian government canceled a $2 billion contract with an Israeli security firm to coordinate security for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. In America, the United Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have made moves in recent years to boycott and divest, and hundreds of Students for Justice In Palestine (SJP) chapters have brought BDS resolutions before the student governments of universities across the country.

“BDS is winning because the Palestinian struggle is no longer this marginal thing people don’t talk about,” said Bassem Kawar, local organizer with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), a national Palestinian community organization. In the Chicagoland area, likely home to more Palestinian immigrants than anywhere in the U.S., USPCN is part of a coalition of mobilized community members to visit the state capital Springfield, talk with legislators, and file over 800 witness slips against SB 1761. “It’s no longer radical to say that Israel is a racist, apartheid state. BDS … is causing people to have conversations about the occupation, and changing the way people talk about it. That’s why AIPAC is afraid.”

Will BDS continue to gain ground worldwide? Last summer, the world watched as Israel’s Operation Protective Edge killed over 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza, over 70% of whom were confirmed civilians, and wounded over 10,000 more. Israel indiscriminately reduced businesses, medical facilities, mosques, power stations, civilian homes and high-rise apartment complexes to rubble during the 51-day onslaught.

Then, Israeli voters elected another hard-right coalition government in March 2015, led again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and featuring people like Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who asserted in a Facebook post shortly before Protective Edge that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and called for the destruction of “its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

The Northwestern University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which worked in coalition to pass a student senate divestment resolution in February, remains unfazed by Springfield’s moves to stifle the BDS movement.  “Now more than ever,” it said in a statement after the passage of SB1761, “we must organize, mobilize and fight for our constitutional freedoms of speech and association so that we may stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Now more than ever, we must boycott, divest and sanction.”