In 2016, the Georgia legislature considered Senate Bill 327, a bill targeted at the decade-old campaign to encourage boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. I closely read the legislation, not only as a member of the House of Representatives, but also as a staunch and consistent ally to the Jewish community.
However, I am now aware that my vote on SB 327 has led to questions about my fidelity to the existence and legitimacy of Israel.
Let me be clear: I unequivocally support a two-state solution as the path to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people. Moreover, I reject the demonization and delegitimization of Israel represented by the BDS narrative and campaign.
I am a proud 2003 alumna of the American Jewish Committee and Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition’s Marvin C. Goldstein Project Understanding Black - Jewish Young Leadership Retreat. I continued my engagement by visiting Israel through the 2011 Project Interchange program.
Over the years, I have been a repeat attendee at AIPAC’s annual legislative event in Georgia. I have supported a range of civic and charitable efforts spearheaded by the Jewish community. For several years, I have served as the annual sponsor of the Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month resolution as House minority leader, organizing an official audience with our entire legislative body.
As a state representative, I consistently supported our state’s investment in Israel and our vocal support of Israel’s right to exist. I fundamentally agree with the critical nature of Israeli democracy, which embraces the core notion of free speech.
Consideration of SB 327, however, required a more complex analysis that harkened back to my application to Project Understanding: the integration of my experiences as an African-American in the South and the desire to provide the support and strength of condemnation to any anti-Semitic actions.
The legislation, as presented, takes the unprecedented step of denying state contracts to any business that participates in a boycott of Israel — shifting from a statement of principle to a matter of law and restriction of state funding.
Judaism is a faith grounded in the importance of law, and the respect of the state of Israel for democracy is one of its finest features. While the instinct to use the imprimatur of the state to punish free speech, however abhorrent, is understandable, the law then becomes precedent.
Boycotts have been a critical part of social justice in American history, particularly for African-Americans. As the Anti-Defamation League notes, the origin of BDS is based in the anti-apartheid movement. While BDS has devolved into a weapon of oppression and attack, the passage of SB 327 creates a precedent that could prevent a 21st century campaign similar to the actions taken by civil rights fighters (the economic boycotts of the 1960s and the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s).
Leveraging this law, angry state actors could prevent future movements from taking root in Georgia by allowing the state to cut off funds for participation in a boycott grounded in a different injustice.
My fears are not speculative. Just this year, the Republican legislature approved a measure to deny funding to private colleges that supported efforts to shield undocumented students from draconian federal immigration tactics. I staunchly opposed this bill as well.
During my 11 years in the legislature, I took great care to examine not only the best intentions of law, but also the ability of ignoble users to pervert law to achieve their ends. Thus, even though the language of the bill specifically references Israel, I could easily and unfortunately foresee a time when a majority displeased by some speech or social justice effort invokes SB 327 in their pursuit of oppression — without the morality of the anti-BDS position.
I can never fully comprehend the apprehension and fear of the Jewish community; however, I learned from my time in Project Understanding and Project Interchange, as well as a range of engagements, to consistently refer to my own experiences as a guide to better serve as an ally. My experiences at the Capitol required me to vote no on a poorly constructed bill with far-reaching implications and no safeguards.
Unfortunately, a recent opinion column wholly mischaracterizes both my position and my actions surrounding the vote. Our Democratic caucus discussed the legislation, and I declined to recommend a position, given the complicated nature of the bill. Moreover, I did not refuse to meet anyone who requested to speak with me on the issue.
As a candidate for governor, I commit to pursue the actions recommended by the ADL to counter the anti-Semitic BDS narrative: know the facts; study and distribute materials on why efforts to isolate and demonize Israel are wrong; get involved and share my personal connection to Israel; gather and publicize public statements that oppose these campaigns; and organize or support local initiatives to promote Israeli goods.
More important, I will proudly continue my efforts to center Georgia as a staunch political ally, economic partner and moral defender of the state of Israel.