South Florida retirees are turning their local country clubs into an unlikely battlefield in the fight over Israel.
Following global security provider G4S’s announcement in March that they would be severing all contracts with Israel, retirees responded in kind, and at least seven local country clubs say they are considering terminating their decades-long relationship with the security contractor.
One such country club, the Polo Club of Boca Raton, was the first to take a public stand. In an email to its residents dated April 4, the Polo Club’s president, Doug Green, and general manager, Brett Morris, wrote: “As you may have heard, it has been reported recently that our security contractor, the British firm G4S, intends to terminate their business operations in Israel in 2017. We met with executives of G4S this morning. …We have advised G4S of our intent to exercise the contractual termination provision in the Polo Club’s agreement with them.”
The other communities that are looking to terminate contracts with the security company include Addison Reserve Country Club, Bocaire Country Club, Broken Sound, Boca Woods Country Club, St. Andrew’s Country Club and Woodfield Country Club — 7 out of G4S’ 83 contracts in the area. Many of the country clubs have had a relationship with the company for over 15 years.
G4S currently employs 8,000 people in Israel and has contracts with Israel’s prison system, for which it also provides security equipment. On March 10, G4S announced that it would be ending all of its Israeli contracts beginning 2017. The company stated that the decision was purely financial and not a response to pressures from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, though BDS activists marked the announcement as a win.
In the first week in April, pro-Israel South Floridians called a meeting to address their concerns regarding BDS at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, which serves the fourth-largest Jewish community in the United States. Those in attendance represented nine communities and country clubs that are among the most exclusive private neighborhoods in the U.S. real estate market. Ashley Almanza, CEO of G4S Global, and Drew Levine, president of G4S’ North America branch, were present at the meeting, which was closed to the press.
Matt Levin, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, told Haaretz emphatically after the discussion that G4S knows that Israel isn’t torturing prisoners. “They should have some responsibility to speak out,” he said.
For years, the BDS movement has accused Israel of torturing Palestinian prisoners, and has protested G4S’ presence in Israeli prisons for that reason. In August 2014, pro-Palestinian activists occupied the company’s Portland, Oregon offices to protest its affiliation with the Israeli prison system.
The company’s corporate affairs director, Debbie Walker, explained that Almanza was in the area and therefore decided to “flex his schedule” to attend the meeting, and felt it was important to quell the tensions felt by the current clients. “He likes to make sure he meets people, the clients,” she said in a phone interview.
Speaking on behalf of Levine, Monica Lewman-Garcia explained that “G4S does not support any movement to boycott Israel.” This sentiment was echoed in a statement released Friday after the meeting, in which G4S reiterated “that it does not support the anti-Israel boycott by BDS or any other group,” and maintains that the decision to end their contracts in Israel was on “strategic and commercial grounds.”
G4S “notes and rejects comments by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement and anti-Israel pressure groups claiming that their actions have caused the G4S group to sell G4S Israel,” the company wrote in a press release. It claims that the BDS movement did not influence its business decision, and “rejects BDS comments relating to the conduct of business by G4S Israel.”
Morris, the Polo Club’s general manager, declined to comment further on the matter, saying “we don’t want this to become a public battle.”
Herman Kotler, a Boca Raton resident who is an active AIPAC member, was one of the locals who alerted the neighborhood board of directors to G4S’ decision to sever its ties with Israel. “Everyone I spoke to about it was outraged,” he said, citing conversations he had with his neighbors, many of whom are involved in pro-Israel work through organizations such as Stand With Us and the Technion.
“There are things we can’t control,” he said of the BDS movement, “but we’re controlling what we can.”
The battle between locals and G4S comes in the same month that Florida Governor Rick Scott was welcomed at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County to celebrate a new law that will ban Florida businesses from contracting with companies that support BDS.
The Jewish Federation’s Levin is adamant that G4S should be “scrutinized” by this new Florida legislation.
In a letter dated April 13, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt thanked G4S for “its public denunciation of [BDS] directed at Israel, and for making clear that the company’s decision to sell its holdings in Israel had nothing to do with pressure from anti-Israel activists.”
According to Levin, “the fight over BDS is a long one, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”