Earlier this week, a piece “Abrams Exposes Democrats’ Israel Split” highlighted a difference between the two Democratic candidates for Governor in regards to their votes on a 2016 anti-BDS bill. Stacey Abrams joined several leading Democrats in voting against the bill, and Stacey Evans voted for it. Current House minority leader Bob Trammel and a majority of the current Georgia House Democratic leadership also voted against the bill. Evans campaign surrogates Dar’Shaun Kendrick and LaDawn Blackett Jones also voted against the bill.
There have been a few pieces in the Atlanta Jewish Times (See here, here, and here) that have been devoted to the alleged split between Abrams and Evans as it relates to their commitment to Israel. The difference between the two women has been largely framed as merely one candidate consistently showing friendship to the State of Israel and the other only paying lip service. The split between the two women is about commitment to protecting civil liberties such as freedom of speech and right to protest and nothing more.
Abrams has been vocal about the need to protect civil liberties. Her reflection on organizing efforts, many of which have made it possible for her to do her work, cannot be disregarded in this analysis. I appreciate her ability to see the bigger picture beyond her personal feeling and appreciation for the State of Israel. However, continuing to frame this conversation as being about protecting the relationship with Israel disregards that a significant objection to anti-BDS legislation here and across the country is the restriction of freedom of speech and right to protests.
Evans is “proud” to have voted for this effort to diminish the right to protest and exercise free speech. If “showing” a commitment to friendship with a foreign country requires subjugating our civil liberties at home, I would expect our elected officials to stand for our rights to the extent they are not depriving anyone of equity and justice.
Also, there is a history of the issue of Israel being used to undermine or attack black candidates, even in Democratic primaries. Candidates like Dwight Bullard in Florida and Donna Edwards in Maryland had to deal with such issues in their respective races during the 2016 election cycle. Even Keith Ellison had to contend with baseless accusations of anti-semitism during his run for DNC chair. I do not agree with making candidates pledge a fealty oath to a foreign country before we are willing to trust them in positions of leadership.
I must note that despite my appreciation for Abrams’ willingness to uphold the right to protest and free speech, I do not agree with her characterization of the BDS movement. There are several organizations involved in BDS organizing that are not “anti-semitic.” Both the American Friends Service Committee and Jewish Voices for Peace are human rights organizations that support BDS as a strategy. Groups like the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights have both expressed issues with the recent wave of anti-BDS legislation for the reasons discussed above. There is a rich history of black southern organizers standing in solidarity with struggles abroad and drawing parallels between our historic fight.
It is understandable that in a heated campaign, candidates will angle for any advantage. Given the current landscape and the work needed to win statewide, issues like this may get cool points from small voting blocks, but they do not help move the needle regarding forward-moving action. While it is understandable that some may feel a certain way based on a particular vote, there is a bigger picture being missed by the prior framing of this vote.
Considering the current times, and the widespread activism and grassroots organizing we need leaders who can weigh competing considerations and make the best choice for all. With continued attempts to curtail protests and stifle speech, we need a leader who understands the value of free speech and protest in matters of justice and equity. Abrams’ ability to be that leader, despite personal differences on a particular issue, comes across stronger than her opponent.