Friday, July 12, 2024

Cambridge residents engaged in nearly a dozen hours of passionate testimony before the City Council on May 17 and May 24, as Israel was again wreaking massive destruction on the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds testified in support of a resolution that would terminate purchasing contracts with Hewlett Packard because of its role in providing computers used by Israel to biometrically track Palestinians and maintain Israel’s 54-year military occupation, and its involvement in the surveillance, detention and deportation of immigrants in the United States.

The resolution ordered the city manager “to review Cambridge’s corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard Inc. over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East.”

This resolution did not come to a vote. Instead, on May 25, the City Council voted 9-0 in favor of a substitute policy order that makes no mention of Hewlett Packard, but mandates that the city manager “review Cambridge’s corporate contracts and purchases to identify any vendors or manufacturers whose products are used to perpetuate violations of international human rights laws” and report back to the council. There is no action required beyond the city manager reporting. Would the council then recommend terminating contracts with groups complicit in human rights violations? Who knows? Apparently each report would require further action by the council to execute the boycott.

We write to follow up on the passage of the order. What steps is the city taking to review contracts in search of human rights violations? What are the criteria for defining violations of international law? Who is responsible for conducting the review? When and how often will the review be reported to the public?

Many of us have worked for years to find nonviolent ways to implement international human rights law in countries where violations are rampant. The constitutionally protected right to boycott is a powerful tool to accomplish such a goal, and we have seen its success in challenging abusive regimes such as South Africa’s during the battle to end apartheid. We welcome the passage of the order, but it will make a difference only if it is implemented. Transparency is essential in the process to implement the policy order, and we urge a process in which the policy order leads to decisive action beyond mere reporting and the public can monitor its implementation.

John Roberts, Nancy Murray, Denise Bergman, Kathy Roberts, Jude Glaubman, Chris Affleck and signed by more than 100 Cambridge residents