The New Orleans City Council is expected this week to reconsider its controversial resolution calling on the city to avoid doing business with companies that violate human rights.
The move to reconsider comes after the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Anti-Defamation League asked the council to revisit its 5-0 vote Jan. 11 for the resolution, which they see as a potential show of support for a highly contentious movement to “boycott, divest and sanction” Israel.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy also decried the move, with Landrieu saying it was "ill-advised, gratuitous and does not reflect the policy of the city of New Orleans."
The resolution did not mention Israel or the boycott movement, but a news release about the council’s action, sent to media outlets by a public relations firm that represents the council, did refer to it prominently.
Though council members Jason Williams, LaToya Cantrell and others issued a statement Jan. 12 defending their actions, both Williams and Cantrell said last week that the council should not have voted on the unadvertised measure at the end of a nearly six-hour meeting, as doing so did not give people enough time to voice their opinions.
Williams said he was unaware of the movement to boycott Israel or its mission.
“Let me be very clear to citizens of New Orleans and citizens of the world — this City Council is not anti-Israel,” Williams said. “That sentiment is inconsistent with the council's actions and certainly mine personally.”
And Cantrell, who will take office as mayor in May and who authored the resolution, though she was not present for the vote, said its passage “has shrouded the city in an undesired and damaging falsehood” — that New Orleans is supportive of the boycott movement.
She said she would support a motion “to reconsider and withdraw” the resolution at the council’s meeting Thursday.
“Well-intentioned actions can be taken out of context by others for their own political benefit, with negative connotations that overshadow any original motives,” Cantrell said. “I believe that is what happened with this resolution.”
Already, those who backed the resolution are calling the move to revisit it insulting.
The boycott, divest and sanction movement calls for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, provide equality under the law for Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow all Palestinian refugees the right to return to Israel.
Many Israelis see the movement as anti-Semitic and as a call for Israel’s destruction, and at least 24 U.S. states have passed laws condemning it.
The council’s resolution called for a review of the city's contracts and investments to determine if companies doing business with the city violate human, civil or labor rights.
As a resolution, not an ordinance, it does not have the force of law and has little practical effect.
But Williams and Cantrell said it was envisioned as a step toward an inclusive process in which city contracts will be judged by a set of community values.
The measure’s supporters, who include the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, the Congress of Day Laborers and the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, called it a way for local officials to oppose human and civil rights violations in general.
Even though several members said the council does not support the boycott movement, the council’s news release about its actions during the meeting specifically referenced the movement when highlighting the passage of the resolution.
“In accordance with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement, also known as BDS, the resolution states that New Orleans will protect, respect and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments,” the news release said.
A spokeswoman for Williams said the Spears Group, the public relations firm the council employs, wrote the news release.
Malana Joseph Mitchell, the firm's director of public relations, said it "followed the same review and approval protocol" for the release that it follows for all council meeting summaries. They must be approved by the council's chief of staff, David Gavlinski, she said.
While the call for reconsideration may hearten the measure’s critics, its supporters say the move is proof the council will waffle on its promises in the face of political pressure and is a slap in the face to those who back the resolution.
The council’s members were briefed on the movement and its mission, with Williams, in particular, having worked with the Palestinian group for at least a year, said Max Geller and Tabitha Mustafa, members of that group.
“All the other communities that came together to support this resolution, their voices, and their humanity is being negated by the fact that the City Council is willing to throw everything out of the window to appease one group of people,” Mustafa said.
Williams’ spokeswoman, Katie Hunter-Lowrey, said the councilman met with the Palestinian group’s members after President Donald Trump announced a ban on immigrant travel from several mostly Muslim countries in January 2017, to discuss a list of initiatives the committee wanted the council act upon.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, one of only two council members who did not sign on to co-sponsor the resolution, though she voted for it, said the council must rescind the earlier action.