Did you hear the one about the major US city that accidentally endorsed a possible boycott against Israel? On January 11th, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution that called on the city government to “protect, respect, and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments,” milquetoast and bureaucratic language that made no specific mention of Israel and effectively masked the legislation’s actual intent. The resolution asked the city government to consider “the creation of a process to review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the City’s list of corporate securities and contractual partners.” This call for a mechanism to end unspecified city investments and contracts was reportedly “drafted by the New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee,” according to JTA. On January 26th, the City Council unanimously repealed the resolution, as protesters chanted and sang from an adjacent hallway.
Credit to New Orleans Palestine solidarity activists: It’s impossible to ignore the humor of an entire legislative body being duped into weighing in on a far-away international conflict without their consciously even realizing it. The resolution itself was so remote from the actual intents and beliefs of the New Orleans City Council that the chamber had no apparent idea of what it was really voting for, and reversed itself as soon as the origins and intentions of the resolution were exposed. Getting one over on an entire municipal government for a city of 400,000 people is an impressive accomplishment and reflects a mastery of the democratic process that even a Naftali Bennett fan probably couldn’t help but admire.
On the other hand, this success resulted from a cheap sleight of hand: Again, the City Council didn’t know that they were voting for a stealth Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions-movement (BDS) resolution. With Israel’s economy, foreign trade, and international relations expanding in recent years, the BDS movement has had to satisfy itself with such Potemkin successes of dubious long-term importance. In a time when nearly half of US states have some kind of anti-BDS law on the books, the movement’s victories have been limited to non-binding campus votes, furtive procedural maneuvers, and pressure campaigns aimed at people who are uninvolved with the conflict’s politics or distant from any actual political power .
Without any durable victories of real significance, the BDS movement might be starting to aim lower. In New Orleans, the movement injected its particular agenda into the softest of possible targets: Namely, a city legislative body that few people were really paying attention to, including, apparently, its actual membership. The past few years have shown that there are few walks of life that are totally immune from Israel-Palestine activist warfare, and the spectacle of a city council endorsing and then un-endorsing a BDS resolution is just a particularly absurd example of how far the conflict’s frontiers have expanded—and of the tactics that activists are using to push them ever further outward.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.