As rabbis, leaders in the Atlanta Jewish community and proud supporters of the state of Israel, we want to applaud our Congressman John Lewis for the recent positions that he has taken in support of Israel, in opposition to the Global BDS movement and in defense of the First Amendment. Throughout his long career in Congress, Rep. Lewis has proven himself to be a strong supporter of the state of Israel and an advocate for the pursuit of peace. In the past month, he has once again reaffirmed these commitments with his vote in favor of House Resolution 246 and with his co-sponsorship of House Resolution 496.
The first of these resolutions, H. Res. 246, recently passed the House with the support of an overwhelming bipartisan majority. It expresses unequivocal opposition to the Global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel, making clear that this movement does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, does not support a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and only harms the prospects for peace and mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
As the congressman noted in his statement on this bill, “I want to make it very clear that I disagree strongly with the BDS movement. Economic, educational, and cultural interaction with Israel, America’s democratic ally, is not only in the best interest of Israelis and Americans, but it improves the climate for peace with Palestinians, which is in everyone’s interest to encourage.”
While this resolution affirmed Congress’ overwhelming bipartisan opposition to the Global BDS movement and its anti-Israel agenda, it importantly did not seek to impose unconstitutional penalties on Americans who choose to engage in boycotts. No matter how strongly one disagrees with or opposes the rhetoric or goals of specific movements and efforts, the right to boycott is an important component of our democracy.
That is the sacred democratic principle affirmed by the recently introduced H. Res. 496, which Congressman Lewis has co-sponsored in addition to his vote opposing BDS. That resolution plainly and simply affirms “that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,” and opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to restrict this fundamental right for any group of Americans in the service of any cause. It does not mention Israel, the BDS movement or any specific contemporary movement.
We’re deeply grateful that Rep. Lewis has demonstrated that members of Congress – and all Americans – can stand up for Israel, push back against the anti-Israel BDS movement, and still respect and uphold the First Amendment.
This position is not contradictory; on the contrary, it is principled and effective. We’re disheartened that a handful of voices in our community have unhelpfully sought to use it as an excuse to launch partisan attacks on Congressman Lewis. These voices have deliberately ignored the Congressman’s clear condemnation of BDS and absurdly charged that his support for constitutional rights is somehow harmful to Israel.
At every turn in his career Rep. Lewis has stood by Israel, working to enhance its security and to safeguard the future of its people. And as a heroic leader of the civil rights movement, boycotts and protests that helped to overturn some of the gravest injustices in American history, the congressman’s own experiences and record is a powerful testament to the need to protect the rights of all Americans to nonviolent protest and free speech.
We’re encouraged that the overwhelming majority of members of Congress in both parties continue to support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and to oppose the BDS movement, and we thank Rep. Lewis for affirming that there is no contradiction between supporting Israel, promoting peace and upholding the constitution.
Rabbi Peter Berg is the senior rabbi at The Temple. Rabbi Joshua Lesser leads Congregation Bet Haverim.