OFP Replies to Jewish Federation Statement of Nov. 6, 2015

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