Petitioners oppose Israel trip planned by state senators, including President Stanley Rosenberg, Benjamin Downing



Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

As state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and other senators prepare for an economic and cultural trip to Israel next month, over 1,000 people have signed a petition opposing it, saying in effect the legislators would be endorsing Israeli policies against Palestinians.

The 10 other senators expected to join Rosenberg, D-Amherst, include Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, whose district includes nine Hampshire County towns. The 10-day trip through Israel is scheduled to begin Dec. 4.

Several of the senators have described the trip as educational and a vehicle to support economic relations between the Israel and Massachusetts.

But the Boston Alliance for Water Justice, which is organizing the petition, said that by going on the trip, lawmakers are signaling their support for the Israeli government in the bloody conflict between that country and the Palestinian people.

The group originally formed to oppose the Massachusetts-Israel Innovative Partnership, which encouraged economic collaboration, including water innovation projects.

“This might be a time of heightened violence, but Palestinians are living under occupation and are being displaced and dispossessed every day,” said Liza Behrendt, an organizer for Jewish Voice For Peace Boston, which is affiliated with the water justice group. “We are asking them not go on this trip and not to go on any trip to Israel with a political agenda of supporting Israeli policies. Additionally, we want them to oppose all forms of economic collaboration between Massachusetts and Israel until Israel complies with international law.”

Activists are scheduled to deliver the petition signed by over 1,300 residents Monday to the 10 senators after a gathering with speakers on the State House steps, Behrendt, who lives in Boston, said Friday night.

Rosenberg and Downing did not return requests for comment Friday night.

Rosenberg has said that the trip underscores the economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts.

“We have a lot of companies here that have outposts in Israel and vice-versa, particularly around technology,” Rosenberg told the Boston Globe in October. “There’s a lot of businesses and lots of jobs and lots of economic activity — less so on the trade side.”

Massachusetts-based tech and life sciences companies such as Boston Scientific Corp., EMC Corp. and Akamai Technologies Inc. have together in the last decade spent billions acquiring Israeli companies, according to a 2013 study sponsored by the New England-Israel Business Council.

Meantime, the state is attractive to Israeli companies looking to expand internationally, such as information security company CyberArk, which was founded in Israel but is now based in Newton, according to the study.

However, Behrendt said Rosenberg’s claims are overstated because business activities between Israel and the Bay State make up just a small portion of the overall economic picture in Massachusetts.

“There’s actually very little economic reason for Massachusetts lawmakers to be putting extra energy into Massachusetts-Israel relations,” Behrendt said. “It is actually a political project to support and encourage support for Israeli policies.”

The trip is privately funded and organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

The group spent over $200,000 lobbying state lawmakers last year, according to the Globe.

“There are ethical questions for senators taking this free, all-expense paid trip while the Jewish Community Relations Council is making political demands,” Behrendt said.

The Senate in October passed a non-binding resolution supported by the JCRC, which discouraged “any actions, campaigns, or movements that would in any way undermine, punish, or otherwise limit, isolate, or diminish any relations with Israel or any other ally.”

The JCRC-organized trip was cleared by the state Ethics Commission because the lawmakers publicly disclosed its details, according to the Globe.

Jeremy Burton, the group’s executive director, told the Globe that the JCRC’s organizing of the trip and its lobbying activities are kept separate.

Neverthless, Behrendt maintained that it is a “conflict of interest.”

Behrendt said if the petitioners do not halt the Senate trip, she hopes that Gov. Charlie Baker takes note. Baker has publicly expressed interest in an official visit to Israel, something his predecessor Deval Patrick did several times while in office.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.


 


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