BDS Strikes in New Orleans
OpinionEditor's Notebook

BDS Strikes in New Orleans

A city dependent on tourism would be foolish to play the boycott game.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

My beloved birthplace, New Orleans, has produced heartache this month, and not just because of the unbelievable way the Saints were knocked out of the NFL playoffs. (After the weakly concealed glee I felt at the Falcons’ Super Bowl collapse, I accept my just deserts; my email inbox is open for all your Aints jokes.)

I’ve been a Saints fan long enough to anticipate unimaginable ways of losing; I’m sure Falcons fans know what I’m talking about. But the New Orleans City Council blindsided me and others Thursday, Jan. 11.

As thoroughly reported by Southern Jewish Life, the council started its meeting that day by honoring the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans for more than a century of good works. It ended six hours later by passing a resolution promoted by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee as part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The nonbinding resolution “encouraging the creation of a process to review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the City’s list of corporate securities and contracted partners” does not name Israel or any other nation, and council members the next day denied that the measure was a victory for the BDS movement or a step toward divestment from Israel.

But the resolution’s passage reveals the foolishness of the five council members who voted for it, including Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, — either for falling for BDS tricks or for thinking they could lend the BDS movement support without consequence.

The process tells the tale.

The pro-Palestinian committee has been open about trying to get the city to divest from Israel. It held a demonstration at City Hall in December to demand divestment and presented a resolution to council members toward that goal. As Southern Jewish Life explained, the resolution the council passed is an abridged version of what was presented a month earlier.

The Palestinian Solidarity Committee urged its supporters to attend the council meeting Jan. 11 for a historic vote beginning the process of divestment.

After the council voted to suspend its rules to consider a resolution listed as “under suspension” on the meeting agenda, only people involved with the pro-Palestinian group spoke, and they were clear about their anti-Israel intent.

Cantrell and four other council members voted for the measure anyway.

Intentionally or not, they followed the BDS playbook perfectly, from the sleight of hand that ensured only supporters would speak to the use of nonspecific, pro-human-rights language that would only ever be applied to one country.

New Orleans’ outgoing mayor, Mitch Landrieu, joined the criticism of the resolution Jan. 12, saying in a written statement that it “was ill advised, gratuitous and does not reflect the policy of the City of New Orleans.”

He added: “My administration understands that words matter and that there are consequences to the actions of government. This resolution is concerning and does not reflect the city’s history of inclusion and diversity.”

That sounds good until you notice the words he left out. He offered no support for Israel and no criticism of BDS. The same mayor who was bold enough to take a stand against the display of Confederate monuments dodged such clarity on Israel.

That’s scary. Maybe it was an oversight, but maybe, like the council action itself, it reflects an anti-Israel movement riding an intersectional wave.

It’s also indicates the power of fools in New Orleans. City leaders should know a tourism-dependent city is never going to win the game of boycotts.

It would hurt more than a Saints postseason loss to the Falcons, but if New Orleans ever tried to cut itself off from Israel, I’d never go back. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

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