Once again this week, a group of Massachusetts legislators are enjoying lobbyist-paid trips to Israel, underwritten by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), within months of having acted on amendments filed by JCRC last summer which sought to restrict the right to boycott.
“We object to these trips as a classic conflict of interest”, said Susan Nicholson, a retired attorney and Palestine rights activist representing Massachusetts Peace Action.
Also on a lobbyist-paid trip to Israel this week is Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. His trip is funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, which also contributes to JCRC. Baker has himself been enlisted in the anti-BDS campaign, having signed on to a statement circulated by the American Jewish Committee which “strongly condemns” the BDS movement, and incorrecty insinuates that its supporters are anti-Semitic.
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is a non-violent strategy for changing Israel’s policies of occupying and creating illegal settlements on Palestinian lands. In the U.S., a wide range of organizations participate in some form of BDS, including nine mainstream Christian denominations/ organizations that boycott goods made in illegal Israeli settlements or are divesting from U.S. and multinational corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation.
“Israeli settlements are against international law and have been denounced by every U.S. administration,” said Jeff Klein, chair of Massachusetts Peace Action’s Palestine-Israel working group.
JCRC’s anti-BDS proposal, which it has said it will reintroduce in the legislative session that begins this January, is highly controversial. In the 1982 decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that boycotts, and other related non-violent activities aimed at bringing about political, social, and economic change, are considered political speech and, therefore, are protected by the First Amendment. Legal and constitutional experts see the JCRC legislation as an infringement on free speech and the right of non-violent political organizing to pressure Israel. Where such serious issues are at stake, citizens are entitled to expect that legislative decision-making will be free of the corrupting influence of money. 68 Massachusetts groups have signed on to an open letter in favor of preserving our right to boycott.
Some Massachusetts legislators – as reported in today’s front page Boston Globe story – believe they have avoided a conflict of interest because they have filed the necessary disclosure forms with the Massachusetts Ethics Commission (EC). Nothing could be further from the truth. “The EC requires these disclosures so that the public can determine whether a genuine conflict of interest exists, and hold our elected officials accountable when it does,” said Cole Harrison, executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action. “Massachusetts Peace Action will remind voters of legislators that took free gifts from a lobby group and then voted on the lobby group’s legislation. At the same time, Massachusetts Peace Action will urge the EC to take its oversight role more seriously,” Harrison continued.
The following legislators are currently on the JCRC-funded trip to Israel, according to social media posts. Please call them: