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January 19, 2018 12:37 pm

New Orleans City Councillors Dismayed by Pro-BDS Implications of Recently-Passed Human Rights Resolution

avatar by Ben Cohen

City councillors in New Orleans are pulling back from a resolution with pro-BDS implications. Photo: Reuters / Carlos Barria.

American advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel suffered a significant setback on Friday, as dismayed city councillors in New Orleans belatedly realized that a recently-approved resolution linking city investments with human rights concerns had been crafted with the aims of the BDS campaign in mind.

The council voted 5-0 on Thursday, Jan. 11, for a review of the city’s contracts and investments to ensure that none of them support companies or entities that have violated human, civil or labor rights around the world. After the measure was passed, the City Council’s public relations firm, the Spears Group, published a summary of the council meeting that clearly stated the resolution was “in accordance with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, also known as BDS.”

New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams told local broadcaster WWL-TV that he was “sad to say I didn’t realize or know anything about the BDS movement until a friend, Harold Asher, educated me on it Friday morning and I began to do my research.” Another council member, Susan Guidry, told the TV station, “I had no clue we were stepping into an international political controversy.”

The non-binding resolution makes no mention of either the BDS campaign or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and also cites several city ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of “national origin or ancestry” — in itself, a potential legal pitfall for a movement advocating the boycott of an entire nation. But several local BDS advocates attended the meeting to speak on behalf of the resolution, and pro-BDS media outlets portrayed the resolution’s passage as a political victory for the movement.

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One New Orleans BDS activist, Tabitha Mustafa, declared that “even though (the resolution) doesn’t have all the teeth, it proves the city council recognizes what is happening in Israel.”

A general outcry that followed included protests from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as Louisiana politicians including Sen. Bill Cassidy (R), who called the council’s action “crazy,” and the outgoing Democratic Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, who said the resolution was “ill-advised.”

Dr. Silas Lee — the Ernest N. Morial Professor of Public Policy at Xavier University in New Orleans — said that now the city councillors had a fuller understanding of the BDS campaign’s goals, they would reconsider the resolution.

“Municipalities need to be careful about dipping their toes into complex international issues,” Lee told The Algemeiner on Friday.

“In this case, they were not aware of the complexity of the issue, they were not informed about it, and so they had a one-dimensional perspective instead of the full picture,” Lee observed. “Once they had a fuller understanding, they realized they had to take a step back.”

Lee, who was the official pollster for incoming New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s election campaign, underlined that successive opinion surveys had revealed little public awareness of, or interest in, the BDS campaign.

“In all the public opinion surveys, recently and in the past, this issue has never bubbled up to the top,” the professor said.

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