On Nov. 6, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland issued the statement (view it here) in regard to Occupation-Free Portland (OFP) and the decision by Portland’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) to endorse our letter to the city’s Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Committee (view it here). The statement contains a number of false charges, misrepresentations, and significant omissions. More importantly, however, it inadvertently reaffirms the justness and correctness of the campaign to end the use of our tax dollars to invest in companies complicit in human rights violations in Israel/Palestine.
The Federation statement alleges that “no one from the Jewish community was even invited or informed” about the HRC’s decision to consider endorsing our letter which recommends that the SRI place four multinational corporations—Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions—on its Corporate Securities Do-Not-Buy list because of their complicity in human rights violations. In fact, Jewish community members were among the presenters at the HRC meeting and helped write the research reports that documented these corporations’ illegal behaviors. OFP has members who are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim and others who are not religiously affiliated. No one has ever elected the Jewish Federation as the representative of Portland’s Jewish community, which, in fact, holds diverse opinions on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and Israel’s denial of equal rights and fundamental human rights to the Palestinian people.
The Federation statement acknowledges that “much of our work happens behind the scenes.” This is because their work cannot stand the scrutiny it would receive in the light of day. Their work relies largely on donor class politics in which large campaign contributions to politicians come with a quid pro quo:Follow the dictates of the Israel Lobby and you will be rewarded with money.
The Federation statement makes the outrageous and slanderous charge that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement plagues “Jewish communities around the world.” It should be noted that the OFP coalition did not ask the HRC to endorse the BDS movement. It merely drew attention to the human rights criteria of the city’s Socially Responsible Investment Policy and the HRC’s right to weigh in on those criteria in making recommendations to the SRI Committee. And in fact, the BDS movement does not target anyone because of their ethnicity, religion, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality, and firmly opposes racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. No Jewish community has ever been targeted by BDS. BDS is directed solely at the policies of the Israeli government and any institution, corporation, or other entity that supports and profits from that government’s policies of military occupation, discrimination, inequality, and denial of fundamental human rights. Many Jews are actively supportive of, and involved in, BDS campaigns.
The Federation statement makes the claim that “the Jewish community” opposes the HRC resolution. Again, this is a false claim. Robert Horenstein, Director of Community Relations and Allocations for the Federation, told the Willamette Week that the Occupation-Free Portland coalition represents fringe groups. In fact, Jewish Voice for Peace is the fastest-growing Jewish peace organization in the country with chapters in more than 60 cities. The many peace and justice groups within the United Church of Christ, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, and among Unitarians are hardly fringe. Neither are the chapters of Veterans for Peace and the Fellowship of Reconciliation that form part of highly respected nationwide organizations. If these organizations are so “fringe,”why then have the Israeli government and large donors invested millions of dollars to discredit and combat our groups?
The Federation statement argues that the two Jewish members of the commission renounced their vote. Those two members claimed at the Nov. 4 HRC meeting that they had not read the OFP letter or the numerous research reports documenting the ways in which the four corporations are complicit in human rights violations. Other commission members noted that, if true, this meant the two commissioners failed to do due diligence and did not carry out their duties as HRC members. But their claims cannot be taken seriously. After the October vote, one of those commissioners acknowledged that he was well aware of what the resolution said, and the other member even seconded the motion to approve the resolution, as video documentation can attest (view here @26:00-31:00; and 1:00-1:19). Could it be that the Federation applied the same kind of pressure to those two commissioners that it is now applying to the HRC?
The Federation statement truly exposes its position when it approvingly quotes Rev. Ann Emry, an Episcopal priest in Salem, as saying that the BDS movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa “was not designed to promote peace but to dismantle the state.” Of course, what the global BDS movement dismantled was not a state but a system of apartheid that rigidly segregated the indigenous black South Africans and denied them fundamental rights, including the right to vote. The single most important demand of the peaceful BDS movement was majority rule. Emry’s statement signals a retrograde defense of white supremacy that is nothing less than odious. It is remarkable that the Federation’s team of speakers included this denigration of one of the most celebrated international human rights campaigns of recent years – the boycott of South Africa to bring down apartheid.
The Federation statement also claims that none of the four corporations were invited to reply to the charges that they are complicit in human rights violations. The coalition supplied the HRC with lengthy documentation showing that these corporations have been well aware of the charges brought against them by numerous churches and others contemplating divestment over a period of many years, and they have studiously ignored these entreaties from religious organizations.
Finally, the Federation, of course, neglected to mention the undertones of Islamophobia and racism during the HRC’s Nov. 4 meeting, or the fact that threats of bodily harm and other acts of intimidation have been directed at HRC commissioners. An HRC commissioner called out these undertones, and yet the Federation has never apologized for them. It is no wonder then that even if a re-vote had taken place on Nov. 4, it would have been overwhelmingly in favor of the original endorsement.
The Steering Committee
Occupation-Free Portland Coalition
November 6, 2015 Download
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Occupation-Free Portland commends Portland Human Rights Commission for standing by its endorsement
PORTLAND, OR . . . On November 4, the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) met to hear public comment regarding its October 7 decision to endorse a recommendation by Occupation Free Portland (OFP) that the City’s Socially Responsible Investments Committee (SRIC) place four multinational corporations — Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — on its Do-Not-Buy list. These corporations commit grave violations of human rights by supporting and profiting from the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. They continue violating human rights despite years of engagement by churches and other organizations.
The HRC is guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and based its October 7 decision solely on evidence regarding the four corporations’ actions.
That decision was met with extraordinary opposition and pressure from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Mayor Charlie Hales, mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler, Congressperson Suzanne Bonamici, and PSU President Wim Wiewel.
On November 4, the HRC listened to and deliberated before a polarized crowd of some 300 concerned citizens, many of them hostile, during a three-and-a-half hour session that, thanks to the thoughtful leadership of HRC Chair Chabre Vickers, adhered to procedural protocol while allowing diverse opinions to be aired. Vickers exhibited remarkable patience and wisdom. Members of the HRC remained respectful and attentive throughout the emotionally charged proceedings.
Palestinians, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, clergy, scholars and other Portland residents cited evidence of human rights violations committed by the four corporations and reiterated their request that the HRC recommend the SRIC place them on the City’s Do-Not-Buy list. Opponents of the recommendation were given ample time to express their concerns.
In the end, a meeting that could easily have descended into chaos turned out to be a striking example of civic engagement and effective leadership. The HRC engaged the community in a much-needed and vitally important conversation about our role in upholding the dignity and worth of every human being.
Despite the opposition’s attempts to censor and silence any criticism of Israeli policy, the HRC held firm to its commitment to human rights and voted that its original endorsement should stand. Despite false accusations of anti-Semitism, fostering divisiveness, and overstepping its mandate, Commissioners reminded the audience that their action was taken in support of human rights for all people and was based solely the role our tax dollars play in corporate violations of those rights.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights Director Dante James, Esq., stated, “Our decisions are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If there were no controversy, human rights would not exist. And without that controversy, as a Black man, I would still be seated at the back of the bus.”
Portland resident Steven Goldberg commented, “The Commission’s decision is not an abstract statement regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is focused on our City’s financial support of global corporations that violate human rights. This is the very essence of this Commission’s mission: to make certain Portland understands that the decisions it makes can implicate international human rights, and that our city’s actions should remain consistent with human rights principles.”
Occupation-Free Portland rejoices that the torch of human rights burns a little brighter today.
For Immediate Release Download PDF
November 3, 2015
Contact: Peter Miller, 503-358-7475, firstname.lastname@example.org
OCCUPATION-FREE PORTLAND STANDS WITH
PORTLAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION IN UPHOLDING HUMAN RIGHTS
PORTLAND, OREGON. Occupation-Free Portland (OFP), a coalition of faith, social justice and human rights groups, reaffirms its support of the principled stand taken by the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) to endorse OFP’s proposal to the City’s Socially Responsible Investments Committee.
On October 7, the HRC unanimously voted to endorse OFP’s recommendation that four multinational corporations — Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — be placed on the City’s Do-Not-Buy List. These four corporations profit from flagrant human rights abuses perpetrated by the State of Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
The Human Rights Commission action is in full accord with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, international law and criteria set by the City of Portland’s own Socially Responsible Investment Policy in 2o14. City policy specifies that “concerns about impacts on human rights” be considered in the City’s investment decisions.
“The HRC’s decision affirms that human rights standards should be applied when the City of Portland decides where to invest our tax dollars,” said OFP member Rod Such. “These standards reflect our shared commitment to equality, justice and freedom for all people regardless of their race, religion or nationality.”
OFP is outraged by the opposition to this endorsement that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and others have launched in response. These groups falsely claim the proposal is “anti-Semitic,” “divisive” and “inappropriate” to the mission of the HRC. They have pressured Mayor Charlie Hales to call on the HRC to rescind its vote.
OFP decries these often-used tactics as yet another attempt to silence any criticism of Israeli state policy. It reminds the public that the HRC’s vote is not about taking a stand on foreign policy matters, but about upholding human rights by withholding our tax dollars from specified corporations that profit from Israel’s illegal and abusive actions in the following ways:
· Caterpillar sells militarized D9 bulldozers to the Israeli military for demolishing Palestinian homes, olive groves and villages in order to illegally confiscate land.
· G4S provides security systems to Israeli prisons where Palestinians, including children, are held without charge, due process or trial.
· Hewlett-Packard provides technology for Israeli ID systems used at checkpoints to restrict Palestinian freedom of movement and enable an apartheid system separating Palestinians from Israeli Jews.
· Motorola Solutions provides surveillance technology for Israeli settlements illegally constructed on Palestinian land.
The dismantling of any form of discrimination, racism or abuse has historically engendered pushback and opposition. OFP asserts that such opposition cannot halt the drive for equality, justice and freedom for all people.
Members of Occupation-Free Portland include Jewish Voice for Peace-Portland Chapter,
Friends of Sabeel-North America, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land, Portland Fellowship of Reconciliation, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Veterans for Peace—Chapter 72, Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, The International Socialist Organization, Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Conference Holy Land Task Force, and Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East—Portland Chapter.
Press and the public are invited to attend the next meeting of the Human Rights Commission, Wednesday, November 4, from 4:00 to 6:30 pm in the City of Portland Building Auditorium (2nd floor), 1120 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97204. The Commission will discuss its endorsement of OFP’s letter to the Socially Responsible Investments Committee and hear invited testimony and public comment.
Click the link to view the HRC Press Release
Portland Human Rights Commission endorses placing companies on a “Do Not Buy” list for human rights abuses in Israel/Palestine
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE