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BDS movement demonizes Israel

Op-ed: The case for anti-BDS movement legislation in Maryland.

Maryland state lawmakers have an opportunity this legislative session to continue to strengthen our state's substantial economic partnership with the only democratic nation in the Middle East: Israel, a nation committed to the freedoms that we as Americans cherish.

The decades-long bipartisan economic relationship between Maryland and Israel has created extraordinary benefits for both states in financial and diplomatic terms. In fact, since the establishment of the Maryland Israel Development Center as a "private-public partnership" in 1992, every Maryland governor, regardless of political party, has led an economic mission to Israel. Today, the American headquarters of at least two dozen Israeli companies — many in such high-growth fields as cybersecurity and high-tech health care — call Maryland home, and we export more than $145 million in products to Israel.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who traveled to Israel in September and announced numerous deals to create jobs in Maryland, is among the more than 40 governors who have signed the American Jewish Committee's Governors United against BDS bipartisan initiative to reject efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

This month, to take concrete action against BDS, Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Delegates Shelly Hettleman, Ben Kramer and Sandy Rosenberg introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent Maryland's retirement and pension system from investing in companies that participate in the discriminatory BDS movement against the state of Israel. This legislation also would prohibit such companies from securing procurement contracts with the state. The approach is similar to laws previously passed by Maryland that empower the state to use its economic power to deter companies from helping Iran acquire nuclear weapons and/or aiding in Sudanese government repression.

If the anti-BDS measure passes, Maryland would join the ranks of more than a dozen states that have approved similar bipartisan legislation and forcefully demonstrate that we do not support movements based on hate and nonsensical claims.

BDS is a nefarious network of individuals and organizations that unfairly singles out Israel among all nations for opprobrium as it seeks to demonize Israel politically, economically and culturally, transforming the Jewish state into an international pariah, with its ultimate goal to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. BDS supporters seek to remove Israel from the world of education, economics and international relations. Meanwhile, BDS supporters do nothing to encourage meaningful alliances with those dedicated to a two-state solution.

Those opposing the legislation tend to surround themselves with inaccurate pronouncements and "alternative facts." They claim that Israel needs to be isolated and internationally pressured to make peace, but bilateral negotiations that culminated in Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties show the value in Israel working with other countries to foster new, more beneficial relationships.

BDS proponents claim Israel is an "apartheid state," which is factually baseless and morally reprehensible.

Natan Sharanksy, the former Soviet Jewish prisoner and Israeli elected official, has developed a three-tier definition of anti-Semitism when applied to Israel: whether the Jewish state is subject to demonization, double standards and delegitimization. The BDS movement meets this threshold. And the presence of some outlying Jewish supporters within this movement does not inoculate BDS from this charge.

Finally, opponents of the anti-BDS legislation claim that it would violate their First Amendment right to boycott. Again, false, since government determines how taxpayer dollars are spent, and BDS supporters are free to engage in any personal actions they wish.

The United States and Maryland need Israel to share its information, breadth of knowledge in the technology and energy sectors, and scientific and defense innovations. BDS tries to eliminate this information-sharing connection between the two countries.

We commend Senator Zirkin, Delegates Hettleman, Kramer and Rosenberg, and the bills' many other co-sponsors for their leadership and commitment to supporting Israel and ensuring that Maryland's retirement and pension programs are invested with companies that do not share the same values as the BDS movement. We hope those supporting BDS begin to realize that their movement of isolation will only push the day for true peace further into the future.

Howard Libit (hlibit@baltjc.org) is executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. Ron Halber (rhalber@jcouncil.org) is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

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