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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Setting a Progressive Constitutional Convention Agenda

Yesterday, Wisconsin became the 28th state legislature to pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that a Constitutional Convention may take place if 2/3 of the states call for one. That means 6 more states would need to call for a Constitutional Convention in order to take place.

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There has not been a Constitutional Convention since 1787 when the current Constitution was written after it was recognized that he original Articles of Confederation written during the revolution and ratified in 1781, did not provide adequate cohesion for the new nation. Even the new Constitution quickly proved inadequate, requiring Congress to propose the Bill of Rights, which became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution when they were ratified by the states in 1791. Since then 23 additional Constitutional amendments have been proposed, and 17 of them have been ratified. Some of these amendments changed prior aspects of the Constitution (e.g., slavery, election of the Senate, revisions to how the President is elected, ending prohibition of alcohol, Presidential term limits, granting Presidential electors to the District of Columbia, and establishing a succession order to the President). There has not been a Constitutional amendment ratified since 1992, when the 27th Amendment, which delays any Congressional salary raises approved by Congress until the next Congress is elected. That amendment took 202 years to ratify, by far the longest period of time any amendment has taken to ratify.

Most progressives have opposed efforts by states to approve a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention  because the impetus for these resolutions, which have been pushed by the fiscally conservative Koch brothers, is to adopt a balanced federal budget requirement into our Constitution. Most progressives and many economists believe that such a balanced budget would be ruinous for the American economy and that funding for social programs would be eviscerated under such an amendment.

The surprising aspect of progressive opposition is that it is driven by an assumption that fiscal and social conservatives will prevail and get their way. It further presumes that the U.S. Constitution is just fine as it is, when in reality, there are a number Constitutional provisions that progressives can and should push to amend should a Constitutional Convention take place.

Indeed, instead of just playing defense, affirmatively proposing a progressive agenda for a Constitutional Convention could actually rally grassroots support to accomplish the following important goals:

  • Revising the 1st Amendment to clarify that political donations are not protected as free speech. This would go a long way towards elimination of secretive and huge donations to politicians which have turned our elections into a buyer takes all nightmare.
  • Revising the 2nd Amendment to clarify that ownership of guns can be tightly regulated and that weapons that have no legitimate purpose other than to commit mass murder, can be outlawed.
  • Revising the way we elect our President by eliminating the electoral college, thereby assuring voters that a majority of voters will elect our President.
  • Establishing a right to legal counsel in civil cases so that people cannot evicted or have other civil rights removed without representation.
  • Granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and
  • Finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment to assure that women have the same rights as men.

Of course, there may be other progressive ways we can improve our Constitution, but if progressives simply stand pat with their current “just say no” to a Constitutional Convention, we will not even have these discussions to find out what other wonderful ideas to improve a document, originally written when it was legal to own slaves, and women did not have the right to vote, was first ratified.

To be clear, a Constitutional Convention in the 21st century would open our nation to potentially regressive changes to our Constitution, but in this case, a good defense, requires a very strong offense.

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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.