(RNS) — Final month, New York state introduced that every one its governmental departments and companies will divest their holdings in Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s guardian firm, as a result of ice cream firm’s choice to cease promoting its merchandise in Israeli settlements, whereas persevering with gross sales inside the internationally acknowledged borders of Israel.
The state’s plan shouldn’t be solely half-baked. It’s a menace to the constitutional proper to free speech.
New York’s choice is precipitated by an government order signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016 banning state funding in corporations that boycott Israel. Thirty-five different states have comparable measures in place, a few of them requiring particular person contractors — together with educators, performers and others — to signal a declaration that they don’t help a boycott.
As rabbis who’re deeply dedicated to the state of Israel, we don’t take part within the boycott motion, nor does T’ruah, the group we co-chair. However we additionally know that the precise to free speech contains speech one doesn’t agree with. We’re subsequently gravely involved that these anti-boycott legal guidelines threaten our constitutional proper to free speech whereas masquerading as safety towards antisemitism.
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Boycott is a vital instrument of our democracy, and Ben & Jerry’s try to carry Israel to the identical human rights obligations as different nations must be protected as an train of free speech. Falsely portray its boycott as antisemitic solely makes it more durable to counter precise acts of antisemitism once they occur.
It’s for these causes that T’ruah has filed amicus briefs in a number of states, most lately in Arkansas, in help of latest challenges to anti-boycott legal guidelines, and has spoken out towards earlier makes an attempt to invoke anti-boycott legal guidelines.
As supporters of a two-state resolution in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we all know that the continued navy occupation of the West Financial institution, Gaza and East Jerusalem violates the human rights of Palestinians and threatens the opportunity of a peaceable future. Ben & Jerry’s principled choice to cease gross sales within the occupied territories is an objection to occupation, to not the existence of the state of Israel. And it’s actually not a call to cease promoting ice cream to Jews.
An Israeli Jew can nonetheless purchase Chunky Monkey in a grocery store in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Certainly, an individual residing within the Israeli settlements can simply drive throughout the Inexperienced Line, typically alongside a highway out there solely to Israeli residents, to select up Phish Meals to go. Labeling Ben & Jerry’s choice as antisemitic is merely a distraction from the numerous human rights violations confronted by Palestinians residing below occupation daily, together with restrictions on freedom of motion and the precise to citizenship in a rustic.
On this case, the irony is that Ben & Jerry’s isn’t even boycotting Israel. Slightly, the corporate is making a principled distinction that each supporter of two states ought to have fun.
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The excellence between Israel and the settlements is in keeping with a long time of American legislation, and it’s one which the settler motion, the federal government of Israel and a few parts of the worldwide far left have tried to erase. We should proceed to emphasise this distinction — as Ben & Jerry’s has — and each affirm Israel’s existence inside its internationally acknowledged borders and battle towards creeping de facto annexation of the West Financial institution if we ever hope to maneuver towards two states.
Divesting from Unilever is not going to assist Israel or Jews. Standing up towards actual threats to the Jewish individuals and the state of Israel whereas calling out human rights injustices towards Palestinians is the very best path ahead, and that begins with difficult anti-boycott legal guidelines.
(Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener and Rabbi Lester Bronstein are the co-chairs of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Name for Human Rights. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)