Engaging in Difficult Conversations

As Chair of J Street’s Madison Chapter, following is my testimony against Wisconsin bill: AB 553.

J Street is the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. For the reasons set forth below, while J Street opposes the global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, it also opposes legislation like AB 553 that penalizes the BDS movement because such efforts are the wrong way to combat BDS.

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J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement

J Street advocates for a two-state solution and a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel. The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line. Further, some of the Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Movement is not a friend to Israel, nor does its agenda, in our opinion, advance the long-term interests of either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line

These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global BDS Movement. Unlike AB 553, it is critical to maintain the distinction between boycott and divestment efforts, which work against the interests of Israel, and initiatives, which are limited to opposing the occupation.

There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the territory that it controls over the Green Line, and that distinction must be maintained

J Street believes it is vital for the future of Israel that this distinction be maintained, and clarified wherever it is now obscured. AB 553 specifically treats the occupied territories the same as Israel proper, failing to recognize that the occupation violates international law and interferes with prospects for peace and a two state solution. Funds contributed to the settlement movement help perpetuate the occupation and blur the distinction between democratic Israel and the occupied territory beyond the Green Line.

Since 1967, the United States government has clearly insisted that the settlement enterprise in occupied territory is illegitimate and counterproductive to Israel’s interests and the cause of regional peace and stability.

J Street opposes legislative efforts at the state and federal level, such as AB 553, which blur the distinction between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, and thus act to contravene that longstanding policy.

The Global BDS Movement can only be successfully opposed with a genuine commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution

Opposition to the Global BDS Movement that refuses to countenance any criticism of the occupation or of Israeli policy will never succeed in winning over any Movement supporters, and will only drive more and more frustrated and concerned people into their camp. It is precisely the wrong approach, and it is having a devastatingly counter-productive effect, especially on campus.

For all these reasons, J Street is opposed to legislative attempts to penalize or criminalize BDS activities because they are the wrong way to combat the BDS Movement.

J Street is opposed to federal and state legislation, like AB 553, that would penalize BDS supporters or impose BDS-related litmus tests on individuals and organizations. This type of misguided legislative overreach is the wrong way to fight BDS. In fact, it actually empowers the BDS Movement. This legislation violates constitutional free speech protections, and is fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic principles as Americans and as Jews. J Street urges lawmakers to engage Americans who are sympathetic to BDS in serious and open conversation and debate, rather than seeking to silence them by aggressively penalizing their actions and positions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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The Kindness of Strangers

Although we live in a world that can feel terrifying more often than we would like, sometimes it is the kindness of strangers that reminds us that on balance, most people are truly kind and helpful. I am in the middle of a two week family trip in Mexico. We spent the first part of the trip with my wife’s family in Nuevo Vallarta. That gathering ended on December 31st. But, we extended our stay in Mexico because my cousin Beatriz is getting married in her home town, Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on January 6th. While we would have flown from Puerto Vallarta to Los Mochis on December 31st, there were no flights available.

This left us with the challenge of finding a place to stay in the Puerto Vallarta area for one night on New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be very challenging. Since it is peak season, like just about everywhere else, the place we stayed with my wife’s family was booked solid. So, I decided to try Airbnb, which also proved challenging, as during peak season, most places required a minimum of more than one night stay. After a lot of searching, I finally found a place, but the hostess cancelled on us due to a family emergency, so I had to renew my search, and by that time the options were few and far between.

I finally found a small place in a village, San José del Valle, a half an hour from Puerto Vallarta. Since it was just for one night, I assumed it would be sufficient for our needs. We took a taxi there, and the village is remote enough that the taxi driver was not confident he could find it, so he called the owner and with her help on the phone while he was driving he was able to find it. Given the small size of the town, I was concerned that we might have a hard time getting a taxi to the airport the next day, so I asked the driver if he would pick us up at noon, and he agreed. He even gave me his phone number just to be sure.

The Airbnb hostess told us that if we needed any help, we should ask the next door neighbor Noe. Given the small size of the town, it was not immediately obvious where we might find a decent dinner. So, after we unpacked, I found Noe hanging out with his friend Hector and I asked them if they had any suggestions for dinner. I relied on my less than fluent Spanish, as they spoke virtually no English. They told me that there were no restaurants within walking distance, but they could take us to a good seafood restaurant when we were ready.

Although my wife and son were somewhat reticent to have strangers take us to an unknown location for dinner, they realized that our other options were pretty much non-existent, so they agreed to go with them. Although I saw a car in Noe’s driveway and assumed they would drive us, it must not have been in working order, as when it was time for dinner, we all started walking to the main road. When a mini-bus pulled over, Noe and Hector told us to get in and then we all travelled 2 more towns down the road until they told us to get off. They paid our fares and then we walked across the street to a seafood restaurant, which turned out to be fantastic. Of course, we bought them dinner and we got to know each other better. After we finished, we noticed that the restaurant had a foosball table and we had a lot of fun in friendly competition.

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We asked Noe and Hector if they knew where we could buy some eggs to cook for breakfast, so when we returned, they told us to get off the minibus at the closest grocery store to the Airbnb. After we bought a few things for breakfast, we all walked back and said good night.

The Mexican music that permeated the atmosphere all night seeped through the walls and lulled us to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that our Airbnb was even more primitive than I thought as there was no hot water, so we just took quick chilly showers and after breakfast, we relaxed and packed our luggage for the trip to the airport. Just to be sure, I called and sent text messages to the driver who had agreed to pick us up at noon. He did not respond, which caused me some concern, but I also didn’t want to give up on him because if he honored his word, and we left before he arrived he would have driven to this small town for nothing.

But, noon came and went, and by 12:10, we determined that we had to look elsewhere, so we tried to get an Uber. Despite numerous attempts, however, no Ubers were available and we now started to fear that we would miss our flight. I knocked on Noe’s door and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me it is difficult to get a taxi in his small town, but he agreed to walk out to the main road to see if he could find one. While I appreciated his effort, it offered me no assurance that he would find a taxi in time.

Since I am a solution minded person who never gives up, I looked around the neighborhood, and noticed a house a few doors down with a car that seemed big enough for my family and our luggage, so I knocked on their door. A woman answered and I once again relied on my Spanish to explain our situation and asked her if there was any chance she could drive us to the airport. I assured her we would pay her. She asked me to wait a minute, after which she told me that her daughter would take us but needed 20 minutes to get ready. As it was now 12:30 and we calculated that we need to leave by 12:45 to get to the airport in time, I pleaded with her to ask her daughter to get ready as fast as she could. She agreed to do so.

We brought our luggage over to their car and loaded it in the back while we waited for her daughter to freshen up after a night of New Year’s Eve festivities. Her mother joined us for the ride, and both of them, Alondra and Laura, were gracious and kind and very happy to help us on our way to make sure we got to our cousin’s wedding. They allowed me to take this lovely picture of them when they dropped us off at the airport.

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What could have been a disaster turned into an experience that restored my family’s faith in humanity. We will never forget Noe, Hector, Laura and Alondra. They are a reminder that most people are generous and kind and will help strangers in need. The challenge, of course, is to turn the kindness of strangers into public policy. The struggle to do that continues.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.