Cambridge City Council Removes BDS from Resolution on Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Some Jewish groups lauded the amended resolution.
May 26, 2021
Harvard Square, Cambridge Massachusetts. Photo by chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

The Cambridge City Council in Massachusetts unanimously passed a resolution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that removed a provision promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

According to StandWithUs and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the resolution initially called on the city to “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard Incorporated over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East,” even though the city hasn’t had a contract with Hewlett Packard since 2014. The Cambridge Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) were among those pushing the initial resolution as an effort to make Cambridge “the FIRST city in the country to END city contracting with companies complicit in Israeli apartheid.”

The final version of the resolution states: “The City Council affirms Israel’s right to exist and to defend its citizens from attacks, such as those launched by Hamas, but the City Council also recognizes that the Netanyahu government has directed unconscionable, destructive attacks against the Palestinian people, and our community should not be willing to play even a minor role in allowing these actions to continue.” The resolution also says that the city will “review Cambridge’s corporate contracts and purchases to identify any vendors or manufacturers whose products are used to perpetuate violations of International Human Rights Laws and Cambridge’s policy on discrimination.” An amendment to reinsert the pro-BDS language into the resolution failed.

Some Jewish groups lauded the amended resolution.

“The vote is a message of comfort and support to the people who expressed fear of living in Cambridge had the measure passed,” Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director Robert Trestan said in a statement to the Journal. “Like so many in Cambridge, we are deeply concerned by the violence and loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives these past few weeks, and the trauma that the crisis has caused and continues to cause for everyone in the region. We hope that moving forward, Cambridge residents can remain united in seeking a path forward that provides both Israelis and Palestinians with the security, self-determination, and dignity that is so desperately needed.”

StandWithUs Northeast and New England Regional Director Avi Posnick said in a statement,

“At a time when Jewish communities around the world are being attacked by pro-Hamas racists, it is especially important that a majority of Cambridge City Council members said no to this campaign of hate. Just this week, BDS-supporting ‘protestors’ have assaulted Jews in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and elsewhere. We applaud Council members who recognized that BDS would harm their community and only fuel more conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”

AJC called the vote “a constructive step that we hope will cool extreme rhetoric and contribute to a more constructive and productive climate where difficult issues can be discussed,” but AJC New England Regional Director Rob Leikind said it’s regrettable “that the City of Cambridge allowed itself to become an agent for the proponents of the BDS movement” in the first place. “This is the agenda of those who reject compromise and co-existence. Hardly the place for the governing council of a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse city.”

Jack Saltzberg, president and founder of The Israel Group, argued, “For all who think the defeat of the BDS resolution in Cambridge is a victory for Israel, it isn’t. As long as Israel is the only country being targeted for human rights violations, it is a massive loss for Israel. In fact, the BDS movement doesn’t mind ‘losing.’ It gives them many more months to spread their anti-Israel lies and propaganda.”

BDS activists claimed that the vote was still a win for them. Tala Berro, a Palestinian activist affiliated with BDS Boston, said in a statement that the resolution “isn’t enough, but this is an important step toward ending Cambridge’s complicity in Israeli apartheid. Now Cambridge must follow through, by ending city contracts with every company profiting from settler colonialism and violence against Palestinians. We also want to see Boston, Somerville, and municipalities across the state follow in Cambridge’s footsteps and pass human rights screens of their own as soon as possible. Palestinians cannot wait.”

Cambridge DSA similarly tweeted that while the final resolution was “watered down,” “we still managed to move Cambridge towards a more just future where Palestinians are liberated from Israeli apartheid & will truly be free.”

StandWithUs said that they are going to work to ensure that the city manager’s review of contracts “is not used to further promote discrimination against Israel.”

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