- State of New Jersey Is Honored by the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce for Its Landmark Anti-BDS Legislation
- June 21, 2017
On Wednesday evening, the ground floor of Bell Works, the cavernous, two million square foot business and retail “metroburb” in Holmdel, New Jersey, hosted a special tribute to the state of New Jersey. The Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce was paying tribute to the state for its leadership against the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement that aims to destroy Israeli businesses and those who trade with the Jewish state.
The decor, cuisine and ambiance were of the most elite, five star variety—what you would expect at an official state dinner. Indeed, as explained by Duvi Honig, founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, the honorees and attendees deserve no less. The by-invitation-only crowd featured state legislators; elected officials at the municipal level; business leaders; community activists representing groups such as the New Jersey-Israel Alliance, Agudath Israel, the Jewish Federation, and more; members of the media; and other dignitaries. “What the state did on behalf of our community and the economy was special, and we are pleased to be able to give back in the most honorable way,” Mr. Honig says.
The ceremony was sponsored by Bell Works, which is led by Mr. Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development. Mr. Zucker is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee and the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which was instrumental in the passage of the BDS legislation. Mr. Zucker is a major fixture of innovation and economic stimulus in the state of New Jersey, and is particularly noted for launching the ambitious Bell Works project.
Indeed, this magnificent event honored a truly historic development. Last summer, the New Jersey legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation that prohibited funds from the state’s $71 billion pension from being invested in companies that engage in BDS activity. This legislation is unique in that it is not merely a ceremonial resolution or condemnation, but one with real “teeth” and enforcement power. Governor Chris Christie signed the bill in August at a highly publicized ceremony, the governor’s first public signing ceremony in two years.
In particular, the event paid tribute to the governor and a long list of legislators who were instrumental in making the bill a reality. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee and the state’s only Orthodox Jewish legislator, and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji represented their colleagues at the dinner by accepting awards and delivering powerful addresses. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, another major force behind the bill, was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. He was represented by his senior counselor, Jason J. Redd. Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, a major fixture of Israel advocacy on the international scene, penned an official letter of appreciation in honor of the event and its honorees.
The fact that such a powerful bill was enacted in such a resolute, bipartisan manner was a strong boost for Israel and its trading partners around the world, and a significant blow to the BDS movement. New Jersey is among Israel’s top five trading partners, engaging in nearly $2 billion a year in commerce, and the numbers are likely to grow in the years ahead.
Mr. Honig explained the chamber’s overarching mission as being the shaliach of Hashem to promote economic opportunity for all, and the fight against the BDS movement as a most important means to that end. He stressed that the BDS movement is not merely a threat to Israel and Jews, but rather to the entire global economy. “Palestinians are losing quality jobs by the thousands due to BDS,” he explained, “and we’re here to be their voice as well.” He added that just as various terrorist tactics were initially used against Israel, and were then spread worldwide, so too can the business boycott movement expand its targets if not nipped in the bud.
Other chamber leaders hosting the event were Mrs. Odeleya Jacobs, the chamber’s VP of public policy and economic development, and Wall Street legend Mr. Morton Davis of DH Blair Investments, who serves as chairman of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Davis praised the chamber’s work to provide opportunity for individuals to succeed in the 21st-century business world and provide for their families with dignity. He stressed the damage that the BDS movement can inflict on the world economy, noting that many of the greatest innovations of Intel, Google, IBM and other multinational behemoths originate in their Israeli branches. “I would say that BDS stands for ‘blind, deaf and stupid,’” Mr. Davis quipped.
Guests and speakers alike all marveled at the sheer magnitude of Bell Works, and Mr. Zucker’s vision and fortitude in making this dream a reality. However, the visionary real estate developer shared his own amazement at the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce. “Your perseverance is unbelievable; you have a heart the size of this building,” Mr. Zucker remarked to Mr. Honig. Mr. Zucker related amusing history tidbits of Bell Works and its unique architecture, which was designed to encourage collaboration. “We all got together to do the right thing,” Mr. Zucker summed up the anti-BDS effort. “We should not allow discrimination against anyone, anywhere.”
As a special gesture of appreciation towards the state of New Jersey, and this event, two prominent wineries based in the so-called “West Bank”—Psagot and Shilo—sponsored a wine tasting of their finest wines, which was presented by Mr. Avrumi Iwaniski, sales rep for Royal Wine Corporation. Shilo Winery also presented each honoree with a gigantic, upscale bottle of its wine as a special gift.
Assemblyman Schaer elaborated upon the significance of the legislation, noting that the large size of the state’s pension fund would make any company think twice before engaging in BDS activity. He stressed that successful legislation can only be accomplished with a strong lobbying effort and community engagement. He noted several major forces on this end, all of whom were in the hall: Mr. Mark Levenson of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, Mr. Jacob Toporek of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations, Rabbi Avi Schnall of Agudath Israel of New Jersey and Yaakov Wenger of The Lakewood Shopper. “It is a ‘chiyuv’ to have a ‘kesher’ with your government,” said Assemblyman Schaer, noting the importance of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce towards that end.
Assemblyman Mukherji, who represents Jersey City and is of Indian-American descent, shared more background behind his Israel advocacy. He spoke passionately about his three recent trips to Israel, arranged by the New Jersey-Israel Commission. He spoke of the constant threat of terrorism that looms upon residents of Sderot and other Israeli cities, depriving them of the freedom and sense of security enjoyed by Americans.
“I don’t deserve an honor for my work; it was a duty and necessity,” he exclaimed. “As Dr. King would say, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’” The assemblyman thanked the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce for being an effective vehicle for public policy.
A surprise guest and speaker at the event was Mr. Hollis Towns, executive editor of the Asbury Park Press. Mr. Towns acknowledged that his publication has often been critical of aspects of the Orthodox Jewish community, of Lakewood in particular, and that some of that criticism is “fair.” However, he noted how impressed he was by the event and other economic growth initiatives of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, Somerset Development and other Jewish community entities. “I’m here to extend an olive branch…We don’t always get it right,” he stated.
Mr. Honig related the positive front page coverage that the Asbury Park Press published following a visit to the Chamber’s 2016 J-Biz Expo and Business Conference, highlighting the business innovation of the Orthodox community. Mr. Towns expressed his excitement to have his publication participate in the upcoming 2017 expo, on June 15.
The finale of the evening was special acknowledgments of Mr. Levenson and Mr. Toporek. Mr. Levenson shared various tidbits about the complex efforts to reach out to legislators and media outlets; organize trips to Israel; and fight vocal special interests who opposed the BDS legislation, such as the ACLU and the Jewish Voice for Peace. He stressed the fallaciousness of the lies spread against Israel, such as “apartheid” and “occupation,” as opposed to the tolerant and opportunity-filled reality for Israel’s minorities. “BDS was starting to crawl around the world and we needed to be at the forefront to fight it,” said Mr. Levenson.
Mr. Toporek similarly praised the joint effort that led to the legislation’s passage, and said that activists are working on possibly introducing legislation to fight BDS on other fronts, beyond the pension fund. “We speak louder if we do it together,” Mr. Toporek implored, a fact clearly affirmed by the nods throughout the room.