A resolution to avoid doing business with companies that have violated human rights has put the New Orleans City Council and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell in hot water with local and national Jewish advocacy organizations.
The resolution, passed Thursday without dissent, also drew a sharp rebuke Friday from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who said he hadn't seen it before the council's vote. He said it was "ill-advised, gratuitous and does not reflect the policy of the city of New Orleans."
However, Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who will succeed Landrieu in May, said the measure is a step toward an inclusive process in which city contracts will be judged by a set of community values.
The council’s resolutions do not have the force of law and have little practical effect.
The resolution encourages a review of the city's contracts and direct investments to determine if companies doing business with the city violate human, civil or labor rights.
While it doesn’t mention Israel specifically, local and national Jewish groups fear it will be interpreted as a show of support for a highly controversial movement to “boycott, divest and sanction” that country.
The boycott 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 denounce the movement as anti-Semitic and as a call for Israel’s obliteration, and at least 24 U.S. states have passed laws condemning it.
The New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, the Congress of Day Laborers and the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition all supported the council's resolution, describing it as a step toward opposing human and civil rights violations in general.
The Palestinian group wants to end city contracts involving equipment made by Caterpillar, the Illinois-based company whose bulldozers have been used to raze Palestinian homes.
But the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Anti-Defamation League condemned the council's action, saying that it could be interpreted as a show of support for the “boycott, divest and sanction” movement, even though the council said that was not its intention.
“The BDS movement, which has inherently anti-Semitic components, is designed to challenge Israel's economic viability and very right to exist," the federation said in a statement.
The two groups also took issue with the timing of the resolution, which was introduced and voted on at the end of Thursday’s six-hour council meeting, hours after the federation itself gave a presentation to the council on its work in the New Orleans area.
Only the resolution’s supporters had a chance to make comments, the Anti-Defamation League said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of 51 co-sponsors of a bipartisan bill in Congress to counter the boycott movement, also urged a reversal, called the council's measure "rooted in anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel."
Landrieu said he will not change the city's contracting or investment policies in the four months he has left in City Hall, drawing a line between him and Cantrell.
He said the resolution "does not reflect the city’s history of inclusion and diversity."
The resolution was sponsored by Cantrell along with Jason Williams, Jared Brossett, James Gray and Stacy Head. Nadine Ramsey and Susan Guidry did not affix their names to it, though they, along with Williams, Brossett and Gray, voted for it. Cantrell and Head were absent for the vote.
Cantrell, in a statement late Friday, said she viewed the resolution as being in line with the city's 2015 declaration that it is a "welcoming city" and its commitment to generally be more inclusive.
"The resolution adopted takes no position as to which securities the city of New Orleans may choose to divest from its investments," Cantrell said. "The council did not single out any particular companies, countries, nations, issues, conflicts or existing contractors. The resolution simply seeks to keep city contracts and investments in line with our commitment to upholding universal human rights."
Williams said during Thursday's meeting that Cantrell envisions the resolution as a step toward a broader process in which a committee — overseen by the city's Human Relations Commission — might review city contractors and city investments, and determine the criteria by which they might be judged.
Cantrell expanded on that idea Friday, saying such a committee would "consist of a cross-section of community members and stakeholders, including members of our faith communities."
Williams added that his support of the measure "was not intended to in any way be reflective of either an anti-Israel or pro-BDS sentiment."
Only Guidry expressed concern about the resolution ahead of her vote for it.
"I’m going to vote for it because it’s not a law, it's a resolution, and of course I want the city to be making investments that are investments in companies that are anti-discrimination," she said. "I am just concerned about the possibility for abuse of this."