Fighting BDS, Texas Style
Earlier this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 89 into law on Yom HaAtzmaut. The Bill makes it illegal for the State of Texas to do business with companies that are boycotting or divesting from Israel. Any company that contracts with any State of Texas entity will need to verify that they do not and will not boycott Israel. This is not merely a symbolic resolution; these are real dollars. The Texas bill is the biggest and the strongest to date (we like everything this way!).
Fighting BDS (the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement) has been playing out on college campuses and in church affairs for many years. We decided to be proactive in the battle and start using the law and economic clout of our State governments to move the needle. Israel is Texas’s fourth largest trading partner. There are joint projects in agriculture, science and defense. There are about $200 million in military contracts between Texas and Israel. Texas owns more than $50 million in Israel Bonds and these bonds are renewed as they mature. The bill was a bipartisan, grassroots effort led by Representative Phil King of Weatherford, a suburb of Ft. Worth. Representative King has very few Jewish constituents, but he believes in his heart that combatting BDS is important for all Texans and all Americans.
Last spring, Jason Schwartz, WHP Alum (Dallas 13) and my fellow classmate, introduced me to Rep. King and several of us had dinner. We dreamed that Texas could pass tough, far-reaching and unprecedented anti-BDS legislation. That initial dinner led to several trips to the Texas Capitol in Austin to prepare for the upcoming session. The Texas legislature meets only in odd years, but the decisions regarding the legislative calendar and what can come up for a vote occur very early in the process.
Through the process I had to practice my Wexner Leadership toolbox:
1. Building wide-based coalitions (sometimes captured by the phrase “misery acquaints one with strange bedfellows.”)
2. Attending to small details (perhaps known as grit but really even the boldest of leaders and plans require tedious and bureaucratic work.)
3. Dreaming big and not losing hope. (No tips on how to be creative and optimistic, but I’m sure Wexner has some. Texas “can do” spirit does help though!)
Seventeen states have passed some form of Anti-BDS legislation. I was privileged to be able to help lead the grassroots efforts in Texas. The greater Texas Jewish community united behind the bill and pushed it through, alongside strong Christian Zionist support. Rabbis of all branches of Judaism, Federations, Chabads, Hillel, AJC, AIPAC and B’nai B’rith all united to help pass the legislation. That was key, too.
Our Torah teaches that Amalek would always attack from behind. The Amelekites always attack without cause, unprovoked and surreptitiously. This attack began with the newly liberated B’nai Yisrael at Rephidim and, in my eyes, unfortunately, continues to this day in the form of the BDS movement. Hiding under the guise of being a “pro-peace” initiative, the reality is that the founders and many of the proponents of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic. While many who support BDS as a means to non-violent activism against perceived oppression, the movement qua movement attacks the greater Jewish community. One needs only to look at their website, materials and general rhetoric to see that.
A little bit of historical perspective: The movement has been discussed since 1929, however, it coalesced at the 2001 United Nations (surprise! surprise!) Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa. In 2005, Palestinian organizations proposed nonviolent, but punitive measures to “punish” Israel using economic, cultural and academic boycotts. The movement brings to mind the language of the American Civil Rights legacy and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Its goal is to appeal to young people, to minorities and to Jews.
Please be cognizant that the movement is not a fringe one. It has scored several victories. Let us examine some of these. The list of examples is unfortunately long. In 2010, the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington State become the first American Grocery store to boycott Israeli goods. Soda Stream was boycotted because it had a factory in Maale Adumim. Ironically, this factory employed hundreds of Palestinian laborers at much higher wages than Palestinian companies paid. Pro Peace? Helping the Palestinians? I think not.
College campuses have been the focal point of the BDS movement. In 2002, Harvard and MIT faculty signed petitions urging these schools to divest from Israel. And while Israel has many friends in the Christian Zionist and evangelical movement, the Anglican and Presbyterian churches have routinely targeted Israel. The goal is to isolate Israel and ultimately to destroy Israel. Israel is not isolated because of Israel. Israel is isolated because of anti-Semitism.
As these attacks continue, let’s fight back and defeat BDS. While we pray daily for peace, the reality unfortunately is that both America and Israel face enemies that seek their destruction. Peace comes through strength, and strength is recognizing the enemy and proactively strategizing for victory.
Zev Shulkin, WHP Alum (Dallas 13), is a board-certified ophthalmologist in the Dallas Ft. Worth Area. He grew up in Dallas and attended the Akiba Academy and St. Mark’s School of Texas before earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, where he was a member of the Texas Cowboys. He returned to Dallas to attend medical school at UT Southwestern. He is an eye plastic surgeon and a pediatric ophthalmologist. Zev has a strong interest in Torah Study, Israel, Jewish continuity and continuing the traditions of our ancestors, for this is what links us to generations past. He has completed two full-distance Ironman competitions. Zev can be reached at email@example.com.