January 24, 2020 // Tevet 27, 5780

Dear Haverim,

In this week's Torah portion, God hears the cry of the oppressed Israelites and responds by sending Moses to Egypt to demand their liberation:

I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered my Covenant..." (Exodus 6:5)

Here at Tzedek Chicago, we lift up this sacred ideal - hearing and responding to the voice of those who are oppressed - as one of the centermost values of Jewish tradition. As we state in our congregational core values.

We are inspired by prophetic Judaism: our tradition’s sacred imperative to take a stand against the corrupt use of power. We also understand that the Jewish historical legacy as a persecuted people bequeaths to us a responsibility to reject the ways of oppression and stand with the most vulnerable members of our society.

We also state quite clearly that this value also applies to Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people:

We openly acknowledge that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against the Palestinian people – an injustice that continues to this day. 

Those of us who stand in solidarity with Palestinians understand that the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel is precisely this: a call from a people who are being oppressed. And that is why I submit that support of the BDS call is not only a political strategy, it is a sacred obligation

We know of course, that the opposition to BDS has been fierce - and it is truly remarkable to witness the lengths to which the government of Israel has devoted time, energy and resources in trying to defeat it over the past decade. It has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort, enlisted a myriad of Israel advocacy organizations and has even created a new government ministry devoted exclusively to fighting BDS. And though demands of the BDS call are based in human rights and international law, it is routinely referred to as antisemitic “economic terrorism” that “delegitimizes the state of Israel.”

Perhaps even more ominously, we are witnessing increased efforts to criminalize BDS at the state and federal level around the US. Just ten days ago for instance, South Dakota's governor signed an executive order that prohibits state offices from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. South Dakota becomes the 28th state to pass legislation that targets the BDS movement.

These efforts to criminalize BDS will almost certainly increase in the coming year. What should be our response? I would submit that we must go much farther than defensive measures that explain why BDS is not antisemitic. Jews who support the BDS call must stand up loudly and proudly and say in no uncertain terms we believe our response to the cry of an oppressed people is an issue of moral and religious conviction. 

In our Torah portion this week, God sends Moses to Egypt to stand before a tyrant with a hardened heart and demand the liberation of a people he has long oppressed. Those of us who cherish this story can do no less when it comes to the cry of the Palestinians.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen