BOSTON – Five of the six major candidates vying to be Boston’s next mayor – and its first elected mayor of color – said during a recent forum they would oppose an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution similar to controversial legislation the Cambridge City Council debated in May.
The candidates also denounced the rise in antisemitism tied to the May conflict between Israel and Hamas.
These were some of the many topics tackled during a virtual forum on June 21 as the candidates fielded questions from members of the city’s Jewish community in an event presented by the nonpartisan Anti-Defamation League New England and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, which was cosponsored by 15 Jewish organizations and synagogues.
Jeremy Burton, the JCRC’s executive director, said the Boston Jewish community was watching the transition of the city’s leadership “with great interest and anticipation,” as the region is home to the sixth largest Jewish community in the country with an estimated 30,000 Jews living in the Hub.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey who is both the first Black person and first woman to serve as Boston’s mayor, did not attend because of a scheduling conflict.
Janey, as City Council president, became acting mayor after Marty Walsh resigned on March 22 when he was confirmed as labor secretary. The candidates will square off in a preliminary election on Sept. 14, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election on Nov. 2.
In addition to Janey, the other candidates are state Representative Jon Santiago, who works as an ER physician at Boston Medical Center and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve; Councilor-at-large, small business owner, and former East Boston High teacher Annissa Essaibi George; City Councilor Andrea Campbell; Councilor-at-large Michelle Wu; and John Barros, former Boston chief of economic development.
Beacon Hill resident and former ADL New England Regional board chairwoman Deb Shalom asked candidates if they would support a BDS resolution similar to one proposed in Cambridge that – had it passed – would have ceased city contracts with the tech company Hewlett Packard, whose products are used by the Israeli government.
“The short answer is ‘no,’ I would not support a stance similar to what has been [talked about] in Cambridge,” said Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico. “Let me just say that both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve the right to self-determination and to live safely and peacefully.” He noted Boston has close economic ties with parts of the Middle East, including Israel. “I think that it’s important that we leverage those relationships to pursue things like greater justice and peace by working in partnership by developing a greater understanding,” he said. “I don’t think that punishing … businesses is the way to get there.”
“I certainly disagree with BDS tactics because I don’t think they move us in the right direction,” said George, “and certainly don’t further the goal of a truly negotiated peace, which is what we need.” George, who comes from a Polish-Tunisian family, said she favors a two-state solution.
“But I’ve also heard the free speech concerns that have come up around BDS and this legislation, and I take those concerns seriously,” George said. “While I don’t believe that government, and the city of Boston, should participate in BDS, it would be inappropriate to prevent any citizen from using their First Amendment rights to speak their mind on this issue or choose to participate in this type of protest.”
“I do not think the city of Boston should adopt this,” said Campbell, who is Black and grew up in Roxbury and the South End. Campbell, who majored in Judaic studies at Princeton University and is now an attorney, said she believes in movements “that stand up for human rights for all. I do still believe the two-state solution is the right one.”
“I also have been hearing from folks who are part of this movement who are speaking about their First Amendment rights,” Campbell said. “I’m actually going to be engaging folks. I believe in engaging everybody.” The bigger picture, she said, is getting peace in the region.
Wu, who is of Taiwanese descent and is the first Asian American woman to serve on the Boston City Council, said “Even though this is outside the purview of the mayor of Boston and city government, it’s important to recognize the ways in which our fights for justice, our stances for inclusion and equity are really tied to events happening all across the world. And so, it’s important to recognize how many of us in Boston are desperately working toward and hoping for peace in the region.”
She said we have to recognize the terrible conditions in which the Palestinian people are living.
“I think we all know what it feels like to feel not fully represented by your government at times. And so, I would not instate a BDS proposal or action because I believe that paints a broad brush on all citizens regardless of individual views.”
“As complex as it is,” Barros said, “people agree you have to have and protect human rights and human dignity and work together and move towards that, and peace as the ultimate goal.” Barros, whose parents immigrated from the Cape Verde Islands of West Africa, added: “And we know that in that push for that, there are conversations about what kind of pressures we can put on and pressures we can’t put on, but I think as Americans, we are woefully underinformed … Any of those policies that are broad in that way, I don’t think necessarily serve the end goal.”
The candidates also articulated the ways they would address the rise of antisemitism and bring the community together.
Wu pointed out that there has been an acceleration of anti-Asian racism and attacks and a feeling of fear in the community for the past year and a half.
“Often, when there was an incident, no matter how big or how small, often it was members of the Jewish community who reached out early, forcefully, who said: ‘What can we do to stand together?’”
“Antisemitism is one of the oldest, and most pernicious forms of hate and it must be directly called out and addressed,” said Santiago, who said he recently put out a statement condemning a neo-Nazi group gathering outside the Holocaust Memorial in Boston.
“It’s critical that we first start by celebrating the communities that exist in Boston,” Barros said. “It’s celebrating, it’s learning, it’s being with people even before we have to stand by you and fight with you.”
“While we hear about the recent rise in hateful acts happening across other parts of this country,” George said, “it’s absolutely happening right here in our city and our commonwealth.” Since 2019, there have been a rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes “and we need to make sure that we are reinvigorated in the fight against hate. It is unacceptable.”
“Yes, we are seeing an uptick now,” Campbell said, “but of course we have been seeing an uptick over the last four years in the city of Boston, and I’ve been proud as a city councilor and as [the former] council president as well … to stand up with a whole host of organizations … that don’t identify as a Jewish organization who all believe that hate against one community is devastating and hurtful to all of us.”