Jealous clarifies BDS stance amid controversy

Democratic candidate for Maryland governor Ben Jealous. File photo.

The Ben Jealous campaign is clarifying its position on the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel after an article in the Washington Free Beacon alleged it was taking different stances among Jewish and Muslim groups.

In a September interview with Baltimore Jewish Living, Jealous called the BDS movement counter-productive and a “hindrance to peace,” adding that he would not rescind Gov. Larry Hogan’s anti-BDS order, “so long as the executive order withstands any court challenges.” The executive order prohibits businesses or individuals involved with the BDS movement from doing business with the state. The American Civil Liberties Union has called it and other bills like it unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

But in a video published by local Palestinian activist Saqib Ali, Jealous seems to reassure an audience at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring that the courts will strike the order down.

“My belief is that the court will ultimately invalidate it. I’m not sure how it actually meets constitutional muster. And the only way to deal with an issue as controversial as that is through legislation. There should’ve been open debate before any executive order was passed,” Jealous said in the video, going on to add that “there’s a reason why it didn’t pass” in the General Assembly. (A bill similar to the order never got out of committee last year.)

When Ali followed up by pointing out that, as governor, he could rescind the order, Jealous said, “Let’s see what happens in the courts first.”

In an email, Jealous spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz said the former NAACP executive officer’s position has remained unchanged throughout the campaign.

“The Washington Free Beacon story and the video they cite merely shows Ben questioning whether the executive order will withstand challenges in court, something he questions in his previous comment to [Baltimore Jewish Living]. He has no plans to rescind the executive order, so long as it is affirmed in court, because he believes the BDS movement is counterproductive to achieving peace. That has not changed,” Hershkowitz wrote.

Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said he was “taken aback” by the video, but that the difference between what he saw and what Jealous had told his group previously was “tonal” more than anything.

“If you compare what he has said to Jewish audiences versus what he said to the audience on the video, there seems to be a tonal inconsistency,” Halber said. “Before the Jewish groups, he’s been adamantly against BDS and talked about his support for Israel and its economic interests. … But I think if someone were in the room where I was and then watched that tape, they would see a different tone.”

Jealous did pick up the endorsement of the liberal Jewish group Bend the Arc’s political action committee on Wednesday, writing in a press release that he had “demonstrated a commitment to protecting equal rights for all, including voting rights; racial equity; LGBTQ rights; and reproductive rights.”

A spokesperson for the organization said Bend the Arc focuses on domestic issues and did not take into account Jealous’ position on BDS.

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