Within the past few years, a number of U.S. states, including New Jersey, have passed laws calling for divestment of state funds from companies boycotting Israel. While I and J Street, the organization with which I am affiliated, oppose the global BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel, we are very troubled by these laws. We find the movement not to be a very constructive approach to addressing the very real issues raised by the Israeli occupation of territories primarily inhabited by Palestinians, particularly since the solution proposed by the movement would result in a single Palestinian state, not the two-state solution we think is the only just and reasonable solution to the conflict.
The two-state solution would guarantee the survival of a Jewish state of Israel, would give it the opportunity to remain both secure and democratic, and would also provide the opportunity for the Palestinians to realize their legitimate aspirations for a state of their own.
This is not just J Street’s position. According to surveys, three quarters of U.S. Jewish voters want to see a peace agreement that includes a Palestinian state alongside Israel. So we do not support those people who advocate for a boycott of Israel. On the other hand, we think that taking state action against those who express views we don’t like smacks of a violation of the First Amendment.
We find this very troubling.
But many of these laws, including New Jersey’s, have an even more troubling aspect. They treat the illegal settlements built in the occupied territories as if they were part of Israel. Let us be clear: Under international law, they are not. Occupying powers are not permitted to settle their own citizens in the territory they occupy. Furthermore, the settlements are part of a program of de facto annexation, which also includes the demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses, and the construction of infrastructure designed to cut Palestinians off from the settlements, from each other, and even from their own places of employment. The aim of this program is not only to prevent a two-state solution from taking effect now, but to make it difficult or impossible for it to come about at any time in the future.
Recently, the makers of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream announced that at the end of their current contract, they would no longer sell their products in the illegal settlements in the occupied territories. They made it clear that they would continue to sell within the internationally recognized state of Israel. Therefore, their action is in no way a boycott of Israel. (It is arguable whether it is a boycott at all.) Rather, it is a principled reaction to illegal and harmful actions within the occupied territories, while supporting Israel’s legitimacy within its own borders.
Now, in furtherance of New Jersey’s ill-conceived law, the state’s Treasury Department has begun to divest from Ben and Jerry’s parent company. As a result of this, it is a sad day for the state of New Jersey. It puts the state in league with those carrying out illegal and damaging policies and in opposition to those supporting policies that would preserve a democratic and Jewish state of Israel living in peace and security alongside a Palestinian state.
The state of New Jersey has put itself on the wrong side of this issue. It is time for New Jersey to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Martin J. Levine of Maplewood is a volunteer leader of J Street and a member of its New Jersey chapter’s steering committee.