Maryland Legislators Will Introduce Anti-BDS Bill

antiBDSMaryland lawmakers and Jewish advocacy groups are in the process of putting the final touches on a bill that would ban companies that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel from doing business with the state.

The bill, which is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks, would prevent the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System from investing in any companies that participate in the BDS movement and also prohibits companies that support BDS from securing state procurement contracts. The bill would amend the 2008 Divestiture from Iran and Sudan Act, which prevented companies that do business with Iran and Sudan from doing business with the state, to include these measures.

Lawmakers are working with the Baltimore Jewish Council and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) on the legislation.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, said the push to get Maryland on the record against BDS is part of an effort for the state to stand in solidarity with Israel.

“I just want to ensure that this ridiculous messenger movement against Israel never sees the light of day in our state,” Zirkin said.

The bill will use language similar to that of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s anti-BDS bill, which defined BDS as “actions … intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations” with Israel, said Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the BJC.

This past September, in response to a request from Dels. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) and Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), a Maryland State Retirement and Pension System staff review found two companies, Denmark-based Danske Bank and Nordea Bank, would potentially be banned from participating in ongoing services. Danske Bank is the only one of those two companies held directly within the pension system with less than $3.5 million, or 0.08 percent, of the market value of the system’s $46-plus million in assets.

In addition to identifying companies that support the BDS movement, the state’s pension system is also evaluating the risk to the system’s beneficiaries and how to address that issue.

On its surface, many feel the goal of the BDS movement is to delegitimize Israel and end the Jewish state.

As a result, Rosenberg said it is critical for Maryland to have a firm approach when it comes to combatting companies tied to BDS.

“In a state like Maryland, where we have an ongoing relationship with Israel economically and culturally, it’s important to send a message to businesses saying that if they support BDS, they can’t do business here,” Rosenberg said.

Maryland, which has one of the largest Jewish populations in the United States, was Israel’s 43rd-largest trading partner in 2015 with $145.1 million in product exports, according to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.

Del. Benjamin Kramer, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Montgomery County and is the bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates, said he is confident the legislation can pass because of Maryland’s longstanding cultural and economic relationship with Israel.

“It would be ludicrous to have an entity receiving state tax dollars that would seek to undermine a declaration of cooperation that we have with Israel,” Kramer said, referring to the 1988 Maryland-Israel Exchange. “So I think we have a very valid reason to ensure that Maryland’s best interests with Israel are protected and that we don’t allow our decades-long efforts with Israel to be undermined.”

Three years ago, Kramer and Baltimore City Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-District 43) introduced a bill in the House and Senate that would have reduced state aid to universities that fund organizations that support BDS. Those bills were tied to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel and pitted those in favor of academic freedom against the anti-BDS crowd.

But those bills were amended, removing the threat of financial sanctions.

Instead, Kramer was able to successfully get language passed in the state budget that condemned BDS, making Maryland the first state to pass such a resolution.

Now, Kramer believes this precedent in part has laid the foundation to incorporate similar measures into state law on a larger scale.

“I would not be introducing this legislation if I did not feel that it’s meritorious,” Kramer said. “All I can say is that I’m hopeful, and that I’m working hard and putting forth my best effort to get this passed.”

Meredith Weisel, director of Maryland government and community relations at the JCRC, said all parties are in agreement with the current proposal and that she expects no amendments to be added.

“We feel the structure of the bill is one of the best models anywhere and that it benefits the state of Maryland,” Weisel said. “Everybody is on board with it, and we feel we will be able to generate enough support for this bill.”

Opponents of the anti-BDS effort, however, argue that such bills violate free speech.

“As long as our government sanctions foreign governments for engaging in behavior that we decide we do not like for some reason, the residents of this country have a right to organize and press the government to sanction particular countries and conduct that they find troubling,” American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland spokeswoman Meredith Curtis Goode said via email. “Those who oppose such sanctions have an equal right to express their opposition. But neither side has a right to muzzle the other, or to prevent their view from being expressed or acted on.”

During last year’s session, the BJC and JCRC had discussed pursuing similar anti-BDS legislation before ultimately deciding to put those plans on hold. At the time, BJC officials said, they didn’t feel the BDS movement garnered enough attention to pursue legislation.

BJC executive director Howard Libit said the timing now couldn’t be better, especially with Hogan having just completed a fruitful weeklong trade mission to Israel in late September.

Libit said while he doesn’t give predictions on pending legislation, he said “there is a strong case that the legislature will be supportive” of the bill.

“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but I believe the state’s strong record of support [of Israel] will demonstrate to lawmakers the importance of passing this legislation,” Libit said.

Anti-BDS resolutions have already been passed in 17 states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) said the decision for Maryland to move forward in its continued backing of Israel has “both symbolic and practical impacts.”

“I’m very happy to hear that this is going to be moving forward this session,” Stein said. “The BDS movement is pernicious in its attempt to delegitimize Israel and making the false claim that Israel is an apartheid state.”

Wasserman-Schultz Resigns from DNC Chair Post

When the Democratic National Convention gets underway this week in Philadelphia, it will be without one of the party’s key leaders. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee Sunday. Her term was scheduled to end next year.

“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as party chair at the end of this convention,” she wrote in a statement. “As party chair, this week I will open and close the convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans.”

President Barack Obama praised Wasserman-Schultz for her efforts in organizing the party from a political and financial perspective.

“Her critical role in supporting our economic recovery, our fights for social and civil justice and providing health care for all Americans will be a hallmark of her tenure as party chair,” he wrote in a statement. “Her fundraising and organizing skills were matched only by her passion, her commitment and her warmth.”

Wasserman-Schultz’s resignation comes in the wake of a series of emails leaked on Friday by the website WikiLeaks that show communication among DNC officials illustrating tension they have had with the primary campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination.

The email leaks come just two weeks after Sanders ended his campaign by endorsing Clinton in the race, but on Sunday he restated his hope that Wasserman-Schultz resign as chair of the party due to what he believes has been an effort to aid presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in capturing the nomination. This includes an exchange from CFO Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’ Jewish faith.

“Does he believe in a God?” Marshall wrote on May 5. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Marshall later apologized for the comments in a Facebook post and said they “do not reflect my beliefs nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council is scheduled to honor Wasserman-Schultz at its reception during the convention on Thursday. NJDC chairman Marc Stanley said he was sad to hear of the chairwoman’s resignation, but that the ceremony will still go forward. He added that Wasserman-Schultz deserves credit for being an “honest broker” and delivering a convention that was “on budget and well-organized.”

“She had some incredible achievements this year, and I think these events cloud her otherwise incredible job as chair,” he said. “I think she made clear with her staff that there was to be no unfair treatment, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she’s been nothing but fair to both sides.”

Stanley said despite the media firestorm that has surrounded Wasserman-Schultz of late, he thinks the mood at the convention will be largely unaffected. “This is the news here on Sunday, and tomorrow they’ll be other news, and when Tim Kaine is selected as the vice presidential nominee and Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee their speeches will be the news.”

NJDC member and Bethesda resident Greg Rosenbaum said he is aware of the alleged bias against Sanders but since he began working on the party’s platform committee as a vice chair, Wasserman-Schultz has encouraged him to maintain his neutrality in the nomination process.

“I can tell you that as chairman of NJDC I took the position that had been taken in the past, which is that NJDC doesn’t choose sides in a contested Democratic primary at any level other than in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

Rosenbaum said he has the “utmost respect and admiration” for Wasserman-Schultz and that he thinks the leaked emails are “selective and done to prove a point.”

But despite Rosenbaum’s support for Wasserman Schultz, he did express disapproval of the DNC’s criticism towards Sanders’ faith.

“Any time we bring religious beliefs into public life, other than to celebrate diversity it creates a real problem,” he said. “If in fact there is an effort to discredit Sen. Sanders because of his religion, I personally as a member of NJDC would say that crossed the line.”

Additionally Rabbi Jack Moline, who serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Wasserman-Schultz is ultimately accountable for what goes on in the party.

“I don’t know enough about what actually happened, but if his happened on her watch, I am certain she would accept responsibility for it,” he said in Philadelphia prior to a kickoff interfaith service at the convention site.

Rosenbaum said despite the inner-party fighting, he thinks the convention will run smoothly and that Democrats will ultimately unify.

“My personal experience from the platform committee says to me we’ve had a spirited campaign, we’ve had a spirited debate, brought all of our issues to the forefront and the platform resolves all of those.”

UPDATE: Suspect in Barricade Situation in Police Custody


After a nearly eight-hour barricade that closed sections of Reisterstown Road in the northern part of the city, Baltimore Police arrested a man who refused to come outside when sheriffs tried to serve him a warrant, according to police spokesman T.J. Smith.

Shots were fired from the house, located in the 6900 block of Reisterstown Road, but no officers were injured. His name has not been released, and he was not harmed during the ordeal. He was arrested around 5 p.m.

Police blocked off Reisterstown Road from Seven Mile Lane to Labyrinth Road beginning around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Officers from the Baltimore City Sherriff’s Department arrived at the house around that time to serve a warrant, Smith said. When the officers arrived, the individual inside the house refused to come out and “implied” that he was armed, Smith said. The Sherriff’s deputies backed off and called Baltimore Police to the scene. At least two armored police vehicles arrived and officers from the SWAT team began staging in the area.

Shots were fired at officers within an hour before the man’s arrest, Smith said. As of press time, charges had not been filed, but Smith said there will be “applicable charges” in connection with the man firing at officers.

Support was provided by Howard County and Baltimore County police and the Baltimore City Fire Department, and the MTA provided a bus for first responders and those who were evacuated from their homes to use as a cooling station.

At Least 15 Reportedly Injured in Jerusalem Bus Explosion

JERUSALEM — At least 15 people are reported injured in an explosion Monday afternoon on a public bus in Jerusalem that is being investigated as a bombing or an engine malfunction.

Two of the injured in the explosion on Derech Hebron Road, in the Talpiot neighborhood southern Jerusalem, are in serious condition.

Police believe a bomb may have been placed in the engine of the bus, considered a more sophisticated way to attack, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. However, they also are looking into the possibility that there was a fault in the engine.

A second bus and a private vehicle reportedly caught fire in the explosion.

The bus reportedly was empty at the time of the explosion. The injured were on the second bus that caught fire.

The injured were taken to three Jerusalem-area hospitals.


BJC Advocates in Annapolis

More than 200 Jews from across Maryland gathered in Annapolis Tuesday for the state’s annual Jewish Advocacy Day — a day where constituents from the Jewish community meet with legislators to lobby for the legislation they hope to see passed in the current session, which runs through April 11. This included several members of the Baltimore Jewish Council who were pushing for legislation dealing with disability rights, harassment and universal voter registration.

Throughout the day, constituents had a chance to meet with their elected officials from delegations across the state. In the District 11 meeting, delegates Shelly Hettleman and Dan Morhaim made brief appearances.

“Your being here is helpful. Your writing to us, your calling us, your letting us know about what is important is incredibly important,” Hettleman said.

Morhaim echoed those sentiments and directed part of his encouragement toward a young boy sitting in the front of the room.

“If you’d like to come down to testify in Annapolis you don’t have to be 18, you don’t have to be a citizen, you don’t have to be a lobbyist, all you have to be is patient and wait your turn but we will listen to you,” he said.

BJC director of public affairs Madeline Suggs said constituent meetings are a critical component of advocacy day.

“Even though a lot of our constituents are meeting with their local legislators while they’re at home, there’s a huge power in numbers in Annapolis, and to get a huge group coming down to Annapolis, talking about what’s important to them really has a powerful effect to make sure the legislation gets passed,” she said.

Among the legislation the BJC pushed for was a bill that would increase widening the definition of stalking and harassment to anything intended to cause “serious emotional distress to another.” The law currently only considers this stalking when there is “malicious,” intent.

Members of CHANA were on hand in the District 11 delegation meeting during the afternoon to make their case for the bill, which they feel would help some of their clients that are struggling with issues — such as when they received 100 texts in quick succession from their former spouses.

“The key part of the stalking bill that really has been of most importance has really been to add a component of seeing serious emotional distress as harm that would elevate this to a crime,” said Lauren Shavitz who serves as the program director of CHANA. “So what we see is that oftentimes people who are victims of stalking might not have issues that rise to the level of what the current law has said.”

Shavitz said that the bill is important because it seeks to dispel the notion that a victim of stalking or harassment must have a serious injury or constantly be living in fear in order to receive protection under the law.

“It’s not always the typical stalking behavior that people think of where there’s someone lurking behind the bushes and then jumps out and might attack or scare them,” she said.

BJC director of government relations Sarah Mersky added that this bill is a priority since CHANA and BJC are both agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“That bill is specifically important to us because we represent CHANA,” she said.

The BJC also advocated for the ABLE Act, which allows states to establish a tax-advantaged savings program that would allow eligible people with disabilities to set up a separate account earmarked for qualified health-related expenses such as medical or dental care, transportation and housing, without losing Medicaid or Social Security benefits. Currently if a person with disabilities holds more than $2,000 in assets they would not qualify. The ABLE Act is similar to the college savings program some families participate in. BJC board member Elizabeth Green, an attorney who specializes in estate planning, said creating a savings fund is key to the success of this population.

“The biggest piece of what those with disabilities need is health insurance,” she said. “If they could get health insurance without paying for other things that they need to pay for then they could put aside savings for other things. But unfortunately they’re all tied together.”

The ABLE Act will provide funding for people with disabilities who receive assistance from agencies of the Associated including SHEMESH and CHAI, Mersky said.

The BJC also was able to successfully secure funding for a number of budget items including $2 million for fiscal year 2017 and $4 million over the course of 2018 and 2019 that will go toward the construction of a primary and specialty care complex at Sinai Hospital.

Temple Emanuel May Become Part of Baltimore Hebrew Synagogues discussing BHC absorbing Temple Emanuel members

Temple Emanuel Rabbi/Cantor Rhoda Silverman elected not to renew her contract, which expires on June 30, 2016.

Temple Emanuel Rabbi/Cantor Rhoda Silverman elected not to renew her contract, which expires on June 30, 2016.

One of Baltimore’s Reform congregations may absorb another as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Emanuel are in talks about Temple Emanuel becoming part of BHC.

While nothing is finalized yet, Temple Emanuel president David Beller said that Rabbi/Cantor Rhoda Silverman elected not to renew her contract, which expires on June 30, 2016.

“We have concluded that the challenges [of] remaining a small independent congregation continue to be significant,” Beller said via email.

A press release said the congregations have engaged in “substantive discussions.” BHC Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen said the congregation will welcome members of Temple Emanuel to become a part of Baltimore Hebrew.

“The goal for Baltimore Hebrew’s side of the conversation is to absolutely help maintain the legacy of Temple Emanuel and to integrate Temple Emanuel into Baltimore Hebrew as best as we can, but for Baltimore Hebrew, we’re going to be maintaining our congregational identity and integrating where possible,” she said. “What I can say with certainty is that while nothing is finalized, everyone on both sides of the conversation feels good about the process of working out the arrangements. It’s been very amicable and friendly.”

Part of that integration includes Temple Emanuel’s sacred objects, the details of which Sachs-Kohen said are still being worked out.

There will be initial representation of Temple Emanuel leaders on BHC’s board, and BHC will maintain its lay leadership, clergy, staff, traditions and building, the press release said.

“We’ve had wonderful discussions and we’re moving forward,” said BHC president Martha Weiman. “Stay tuned.”

Temple Emanuel, which sold its Reisterstown building in June and started renting space at Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills in July, originally planned to build its own sanctuary at Beth Israel. Randi Buergenthal, Beth Israel’s president, said the congregations have an amicable arrangement.

“We have a very good relationship with Temple Emanuel. We certainly understand that they need to do what’s best for their congregation,” she said. “We have a lease arrangement with them and both of us will be honoring the terms of the lease. And that’s really it.”

Baltimore Jewish Council Names Howard Libit New Executive Director Libit to take position in May

Howard Libit

Howard Libit (By Marc Shapiro)

The Baltimore Jewish Council named Howard Libit its next executive director on Thursday.

Libit is currently the treasurer of the BJC and the public affairs chief and director of strategic planning and policy at the office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The BJC voted unanimously for Libit to succeed executive director Art Abramson at a board meeting Thursday. Libit will start his position in May, and there will likely be overlap with Abramson, whose contract is up June 30.

Libit, 43, said he is excited to work on behalf of the Jewish community.

“Our community has great diversity and I think [this is an] opportunity to take advantage of that, build on it and help all of us understand that our similarities and our values and what we’re seeking are greater than our differences,” he said. “The BJC has a great track record of success of bringing resources in to our community on behalf of The Associated and it’s agencies as well as advocating on behalf of greater Baltimore Jewish community and I’d really like to build on that and continue to expand and continue to make new relationships and strengthen the current ones we have.”

The Highland Park, Ill., native moved to Baltimore after graduated from Stanford University in 1994 to work at The Baltimore Sun. At The Sun, he worked his way from reporter to city editor to assistant managing editor of news. When he stepped down in 2009 to go into public relations, he joined the BJC’s leadership development program, and was a member of the 2009-2010 class.

He served on the BJC’s Metropolitan Issues Commission prior to joining the executive board three-and-a-half years ago as assistant secretary. He served a two-year term in the capacity before becoming treasurer.

BJC first vice president Abba David Poliakoff said Libit was picked out of a couple dozen applicants that he and a search committee considered for the position.

“Howard is and has been very involved in the Jewish community, in the Baltimore Jewish council, in his synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and all things Jewish generally,” Poliakoff said. “In addition, he’s got the experience of somebody involved in public relations, community relations and communications generally. So it seemed like a natural fit of blending those qualities together for the Jewish community.”

Yeshiva Student Killed West Bank shooting victim was brother of U of Md. student

A yeshiva student killed in a West Bank shooting Thursday was identified as Ezra Schwartz of Sharon, Mass.

Schwartz, 18, was one of three people killed Thursday by a terrorist near Gush Etzion. He reportedly was studying for a year at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh.

He is the brother of Mollie Schwartz, who is a student with the 2019 class at University of Maryland. The Hillel community will gather this evening to recite from the Book of Psalms. Officials at Hillel and the university’s counseling center will be available for counseling and conversation.

Schwartz was a recent graduate of the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass. and had been a counselor at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish summer camp in Northwood, N.H.

At least one attacker, reported to be a Palestinian, shot into a minivan full of people as well as another car near a traffic junction, then rammed his car into several other cars and bystanders, according to reports. One shooter reportedly exited his car and was shot and injured by security forces.

JTA News and Features contributed to this report

Filmmaker’s Presentation Met with Protest Israeli television personality Assi Azar screens film at Goucher College to mixed audience

Assi Azar, photo from A Wider Bridge, screen shot.

Assi Azar, photo from: A Wider Bridge, screen shot.

Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted an Israeli television personality and LGBT rights advocate who had come to Goucher College last week to screen a film addressing how parents cope with their children coming out as gay.

According to the Israeli speaker, Assi Azar, this was the first time in his U.S. tour promoting “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You” that he has encountered pro-Palestinian students.

“At Goucher, many people came to see the film,” he reported in a Nov. 6 Facebook post that has been reposted by some in the Baltimore Jewish community. “There were many students, many non-Jewish students, and many students that are part of the LGBTQIAA community.

“Before the screening began, I told the audience that I hope we could all engage in an open dialogue as we all share the same goal: Jews and Arabs living side by side in peace,” he continued. “We are all against the death of innocent people. We all must engage in dialogue in order to put an end to the conflict. About 15 percent of the audience (15 people) put pink duct tape over their mouths and they had made posters to be display.

The film screening was peaceful, but it was quickly succeeded by students removing the tape, standing, and chanting against Israel, with posters in their hands. These chants were combative [and] filled with distortions of facts, mostly anti-Semitic.

I found myself under attack, accused of ridiculous accusations. I was arguing with 20–year-old students who were brain washed against Israel, had never visited Israel and who were targeting pure hatred against us.

It was very threatening. I could see the fear on the faces of the Jewish students that were sitting in the hall. Most of them did not take part in the imminent debate that transpired. Students reflected afterward that they were simply afraid to speak as they would likely be targeted and possibly assaulted the next day.

What shocked me the most however, was the fact that some of the students who came out against Israel calling our State an apartheid state were Jews themselves!!!”

Azar posted the details of the event in both English and Hebrew and as of Sunday afternoon, there were more than 180 shares of his English post and almost 50 comments, both in agreement and in opposition, to his presentation and the aftermath.

There are also about 120 shares and more than 100 comments for the Hebrew posting on Facebook.

One student, who, from her comment appeared to be in attendance at the event, wrote on Azar’s post: “It was not an anti-Semitic protest. It was a protest against the use of pro-LGBTQIA propaganda to erase and distract from Israeli violence. The protest was peaceful. No hate speech was used. They were not protesting you, they were protesting Goucher Hillel’s and Gopher Israel’s decision to show your movie. And you talk about Jewish students afraid of being harassed, but you should know, the Jewish students who participated in the protest ARE being harassed. Their Jewishness is being questioned, they’re told they hate themselves and other Jews, they’re feeling unsafe to be Jewish and vocal about the violence in Palestine. Your post fails to represent even half of what truly happened.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake Will Not Seek Reelection

BALTIMORE MAYOR - 10.02.2013Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Friday morning that she will not seek reelection in 2016, saying she wants to devote her remaining time in office to the challenges Baltimore faces.

“As I prepared to engage in a vigorous mayoral campaign and participated in planning meetings with my campaign team and volunteers, I came to the realization that every moment that I spend running for mayor would take away from the urgent responsibilities to the city that I love,” she said in a statement. “Over the next 15 months, my time would be best spent focused on continuing to move the city forward and building upon our progress, without the distraction of campaign politics.”

She said she plans to spend her remaining 15 months in office working to improve police-community relations, invest in recreation centers, create jobs and tackle neighborhood blight.

In addition to former Mayor Sheila Dixon, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, City Councilman Carl Stokes and four lesser-known candidates have announced campaigns for the city’s high office. Others considering mayoral runs include author and entrepreneur Wes Moore, City Councilman Nick Mosby, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and state Del. Jill Carter.