On October 3, Millburn joined other New Jersey municipalities such as Caldwell, West Caldwell and Livingston when the township committee approved a resolution in opposition to the global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS, according to its website, is “A Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice, and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”
New Jersey is one of three states that have laws opposing the BDS movement. In August 2016, Governor Christie signed a bill prohibiting the investment of state pension funds in businesses that boycott Israel.
The resolution met with some opposition with Committee member Samuel Levy voting “no” and Committee member Robert Tillotson abstaining.
Levy’s opposition stemmed from the his stance that the resolution served no public or legislative purpose and merely stated support for an existing law. “We might as well have a resolution stating we support all New Jersey laws,” he said. He called the resolution gratuitous and symbolic and cautioned that approving it would be a “slippery slope.”
“It would not be unfair for residents to ask us to start issuing resolutions about the involvement of Russia meddling in our elections, slavery in Myanmar, conflicts in Syria,” said Levy.
Levy continued, ”There are many affairs of state we could be asked to issue resolutions on if we get involved in affairs of state between Israel and Palestine.”
Tillotson expressed concern that approval of the measure would lead to requests for similar resolutions when the Millburn Township Committee had historically abstained from international and national issues.
“Just recently people wanted us to sign off on an issue,” Tillotson said, referring to a Sanctuary City status request brought before the committee earlier this year by township residents.
“I would never discourage the Township Committee from passing resolutions on state, national or international issues,” said Millburn resident Philip Kirsch during public comments. “Who knows? One day you may pass one in support of DACA or in making Millburn a safe city for immigrants,” he said.
Kirsch condemned the BDS movement and stressed his support for the State of Israel and the people of Israel, but said he did not support statements of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which along with Hadassah of Northern New Jersey, brought the resolution to the township.
“They called the United States government’s abstention from a unanimous vote condemning the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements the top anti-semitic act of 2016. Viewpoints like that shut down all civil discourse,” Kirsch argued, “I know this is a very emotional issue, which makes dialogue that much more important. Anything that shuts that down endangers Israel and peace in the Middle East.”
David Blechman, with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, thanked the committee saying, “The BDS movement has met the litmus test for anti-semitism. Too often it is asked what can be done to combat such hatred and discrimination and I believe that the resolution is a step in the right direction.”
Stephanie Bonder, immediate past president of Hadassah Northern New Jersey, thanked the committee for passing the resolution: “You are not simply making a symbolic gesture. You are taking a stand against hate.” She referenced the shooting in Las Vegas and last month’s Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rally as examples of hate.
“While I’m grateful to those who supported the resolution, I’m embarrassed it didn’t pass unanimously,” said resident Sarit Catz. She noted Livingston, Caldwell and West Caldwell all passed a similar resolution unanimously.