Leaders of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition are hopeful that the Sept. 18 unanimous passage by the State Senate of a resolution condemning actions taken by the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel will lead to a decline in the rapidly rising number of college campus incidents and other acts of intimidation against Jews.
PJC Chairman Matt Handel views this as a clear statement the Commonwealth won’t tolerate such actions. “What this means is it shows the level of support the State has for Israel within the Senate and, by extension, those who support Israel in a fair and equitable way,” said Handel, after the Senate passed State Resolution 136, 49-0. “This is less about having influence than as a sign of how important the Jewish community is to the leadership of Pennsylvania.”
The resolution was introduced by state Sen. Steward Greenleaf (R-District 12). The vote followed by several months a similar resolution that was adopted by the state House of Representatives.
“We’ve seen similar sentiment in the House and the administration sending messages about inherent fairness,” continued Handel. “No country and people should be discriminated against. We live in a society where honest debate and frank expression of opposing views are welcome. It should be important for both sides to have that debate.
“The BDS movement is not designed to do that.”
According to Handel, who’s served as PJC chairman the past five years, the BDS movement uses specific criteria attacking Israel that it won’t apply to other countries engaged in the same tactics. This “selective discrimination” attempts to paint Israel as a global menace, a message their followers have eagerly attempted to spread on college campuses.
“They try to make Israel a pariah state using criteria applied to no other countries in the world,” said Handel, referring to issues like border security and refugees. “This sends a message to people this is not acceptable.
“We need to ensure opportunities for people to be able to express their beliefs on both sides. Such a blatant effort to discriminate is unacceptable.”
The next step would be getting the House to pass a similar resolution and to have measures passed that would prevent school board members from joining in BDS-sponsored boycotts. However, that effort has run into a roadblock, according to a source, because the negotiating team for the ACLU includes pro-Palestinian legal representation.
“We had one other resolution pass in the House in June,” said PJC executive director, Hank Butler. “And now this one has passed in the Senate. Having both chambers unanimously pass sends a pretty strong message of opposition to the BDS movement — and, more importantly, support for Israel.”
“We need to ensure the current laws are enforced against people who go beyond legitimate criticism to those advocating hate,” added Handel. “That’s why we thank the Senate for passing this. It just reinforces how important the issue is.”
Last week, Cliff Rieders, a member of the national board of the ZOA, lauded the actions in the state legislature.
“Group boycotts have a long history of condemnation in the United States on both the federal and state level,” he said in a statement. “Pennsylvania joins a small but growing chorus of states that have acted defiantly to take a stand against anti-Semitism and economic boycotts intended to destroy the ability of the State of Israel to function effectively.”
Joshua Runyan contributed to this report. A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.