CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (JTA) — A campaign calling on the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts to not renew its contract with Hewlett Packard because of its business ties with Israel was dealt a setback, at least temporarily, when a group behind the proposed boycott failed to get its resolution placed on the City Council’s agenda for its next scheduled meeting.
Mass Against HP, or MAHP, a group that includes Jewish Voice for Peace Boston and Mass Peace Action, initiated a resolution to end municipal contracts with Hewlett Packard Incorporated and Hewlett Packard Enterprise for what it claims is the company’s role in human rights violations by providing technology used by Israel against Palestinians, and in U.S. prisons and by U.S. Homeland security to track immigrants.
Their petition calls on municipalities to end contracts “until these companies fully and publicly terminate their corporate complicity in violence against and denial of equal rights to Palestine, immigrants, and people who are or have been incarcerated in U.S. prisons.“
As part of its campaign, the group met with city councilors and Mayor Marc McGovern to seek a sponsor for its resolution. That was expected to happen on April 23, as MAHP, on its website and Facebook page, called on its supporters to show up at the Council meeting to support the resolution.
But in the last week, as word of the resolution spread, three of the Boston area’s largest Jewish organizations, who were taken by surprise, responded with a coordinated campaign to oppose the boycott.
Robert Leikind, regional director of the New England American Jewish Committee; Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League New England region; and Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston met with Cambridge Mayor McGovern and nearly all of the city councilors, according to Leikind.
In email communications to their separate organizations, the three groups asked residents of Cambridge and Greater Boston to oppose the resolution, and called on them to contact city officials and to attend the council meeting. Leikind said they were especially disturbed that in addition to singling out Israel with half-truths, the language of the proposed resolution was not made public.
Late Thursday afternoon, the city council published its agenda for the April 23 meeting without the proposed resolution, meaning that it would not be considered.
“We have been gratified to learn some of the City Councilors have heard us, and the resolution to boycott HP will not be put to vote on April 23rd,” the groups wrote in an email.
“I think that there is a greater appreciation for why the proposed resolution singling out Israel is fundamentally unjust and risks turning the City Council into the instrument of the global BDS movement and its malignant intentions,” Leikind wrote in an email to JTA. “We are grateful for their readiness to listen and discuss these issues,” he wrote.
In an email from the mayor to a city resident who opposed the resolution, shared with JTA, McGovern wrote, “As I began to learn more about the issue, I looked more closely at the BDS movement. As much as I don’t want Cambridge to be indirectly supporting those who engage in human rights violations, I also don’t want Cambridge associated with a movement that has made anti-Semitic comments.” The issue goes beyond Cambridge, he wrote. “This should be a larger conversation and not one that centers on just one relationship.”
A spokesman for the mayor’s office told JTA that McGovern has heard from at least 100 people about the resolution, with the majority opposing it. He did not have available the monetary value of the current municipal contract with HP.
AJC, ADL and JCRC are cautioning that some version of a proposal may still be considered at a later council meeting. In an email to JTA, Leikind wrote that they are hopeful that it will broadly address human rights and not single out Israel.
For its part, Mass Against HP is urging its backers to attend a council meeting on either April 30 or May 7.
One other supporting organization, according to its Facebook page, is Our Revolution Cambridge, the local group of the national organization started by the Bernie Sanders campaign after the election. The senator’s Congressional office did not respond to an email request for a comment.
Cambridge, a city of more than 110,000, is home to two synagogues, several independent minyans, at least two Chabads, and two Hillel student organizations, at Harvard University and MIT.