Chicago’s Jesus Garcia slams attempt to thwart boycott of Israel

Cook County, which contains the city of Chicago, passed a resolution last week calling on its pension fund to divest from foreign companies that boycott Israel.

The measure is non-binding but follows Illinois’ recent first-in-the-nation legislation requiring state pension funds to do the same.

Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who challenged Rahm Emanuel in Chicago’s mayoral election earlier this year, criticized the resolution.

“I do not support the resolution because it is one-sided and doesn’t shed any light on resolving the conflict in a just manner,” Garcia told The Electronic Intifada. “There is no mention of the illegal settlements, the plight of refugees especially in Gaza and many other unilateral and illegal acts that the Israeli government has permitted to be taken by settlers and others.”

Cook, with more than five million residents, is the second most populous county in the United States, after Los Angeles.

No debate

Garcia was also critical of the manner in which the resolution’s supporters pushed it through the board.

“I learned that the resolution was going to be introduced and sent to committee shortly before the meeting,” Garcia, one of 17 elected Cook County Board members, told The Electronic Intifada. “To my surprise the resolution was called while I was out of the board room and toward the end of the meeting. It passed on a voice vote.”

Video of the 29 July meeting shows that the resolution passed with no debate.

Garcia, a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, said that most commissioners who co-sponsored the resolution did so “without I believe understanding what it means.”

While there was no roll call, the resolution, proposed by Garcia’s fellow Democrat Bridget Gainer, was co-sponsored by 12 board members – a majority.

They were, in addition to Gainer, Democrats Richard Boykin, John Fritchey, Larry Suffredin, Luis Arroyo Jr., Robert Steele, Deborah Sims, Stanley Moore and Joan Patricia Murphy and Republicans Timothy Schneider, Gregg Goslin and Sean Morrison.

Citing the recent Illinois law as a precedent, the resolution (15-4701) calls on the Cook County pensions fund “to conduct an audit of its investments to identify any companies engaged in the economic boycott of Israel and to fully divest from such foreign companies.”

The resolution also claims that the county “has strong economic, scientific, educational and cultural ties with Israel, which brings [sic] jobs and other benefits to the residents of this county.”

Cook County is home to one of the largest diaspora Palestinian communities in the United States, but the resolution makes no mention of the damage Israeli occupation and other human rights abuses have done to them or their relatives in Palestine.

“Politically motivated”

“The resolution doesn’t have any teeth, it is advisory and I believe largely politically motivated,” Garcia added.

While that may be true, the fact that it was brought to the board is likely an indicator that Israel lobby groups will increasingly turn to local and municipal governments, as well as state and federal bodies, in their effort to slow the momentum of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

That the resolution was passed without fanfare, advance notice or discussion also suggests something else: anti-Palestinian groups want favorable decisions they can point to on paper, but aren’t ready for a public debate in which Palestinians and supporters of their rights are given a voice.

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Comments

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Please fix the headline: confusing and Chuy should get credit for this.

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At one time, Rahm Emmanuel was described in the Israeli press as an "IDF volunteer". It appears he never enlisted in Israel's military but did serve the army in a civilian capacity. Whatever his exact involvement, he is understood to be a faithful and loyal friend to the apartheid state. In this and other respects, he is entirely representative of the New Democrats who came to power under Clinton.

As for the anti-boycott resolution rahmmed through without a vote, its "non-binding" character acknowledges the impossibility of proceeding through the courts against BDS supporters. It's a hollow, unenforceable bluff. The resolution is specifically aimed at foreign companies, who are not subject to Cook County or Illinois jurisdiction anyway. As for American institutions, they remain free even within the terms of this declaration to boycott Israel and continue their business relations with Cook County. The whole affair is a farce.

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Cook County has it wrong; Chuy has it right. I don't mean morally, which is one aspect to consider. However, more importantly for local and regional government entities, the County and its constituent local authorities are inextricably bound by international law--both human rights treaty obligations and peremptory norms applying to the USA as a whole--not to recognize, transact or otherwise cooperate with entities that participate in and/or benefit from the illegal situation in Palestine. For further explanation, please see: "Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations of Local Government" at: http://www.hlrn.org/img/docume.... Technically, when governments refrain from transacting with Israel and its partners, it is no longer boycott (a consumer's personal choice), but a legal requirement.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.