Tuesday night’s epic UCLA debate over divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation was notable for what it included—a coalition of over 30 diverse campus groups in support of divestment, and for what it lacked—a robust, organized opposition. (The divestment vote won in a landslide.)
The likely reason for the relative silence of Israel-aligned student groups can be traced to a leaked memo in which a beleaguered UCLA Hillel head, concerned about the upcoming divestment vote, is cautioned by the PR firm 30 Point Strategies to not “put out any statements.” In other words, remain silent.
But 30 Point Strategies’ relationship with Hillel International, the “largest Jewish campus organization in the world”, on whose behalf they offered advice in the email, is no secret.
30 Point Strategies principal, Noam Neusner (pictured at right), is regularly identified as the spokesperson for Hillel International in articles relating to the upstart Open Hillel movement or other initiatives related to boycott, divestment and sanctions on campus. He was also spotted at the groundbreaking Open Hillel conference, though Hillel insisted they would send no official representatives.
But what is less known, or has been conveniently forgotten, is that Neusner was employed by the Turkish government to lobby the American Jewish community and Congress to deny the Armenian genocide, at least through 2010.
Back in 2008, Nathan Guttman wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward
Armenian activists are crying foul over Turkey’s hiring of a Jewish lobbyist to work against the recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Noam Neusner, former chief speechwriter on policy issues for President Bush and White House liaison to the Jewish community, was hired by the government of Turkey to promote strong ties with major Jewish groups and to urge these groups to oppose House Resolution 106, which would have labeled the murders genocide.
The information was uncovered when Neusner registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
According to the filings, Neusner Communications, where Neusner is listed as principal, received a monthly retainer that recently was increased to $8,500 for Neusner’s extensive contacts with major figures in the Jewish community. It was the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy group with goals that include “ensuring the appropriate commemoration of the Armenian genocide,” that first made the documents public.
Neusner Communications received a total of $80,833 for the period from November 2007 to September 2008, according to the filings. Neusner said he “does not discuss client relationships.”
… Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director, called the hiring of Neusner to work on behalf of the Turkish government “a misguided attempt to manipulate Jewish-American opinion.” Hamparian argued that Jewish support in America for the Turkish side is “crumbling” and therefore there is a need to hire a lobbying firm aimed specifically at the community.
And Hamparian was right. The issue has understandably divided Jewish Americans, and caused a real rift in the Anti-Defamation League, whose involvement in lobbying against official Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is documented on the site NoPlaceforDenial.com.
But wait, there’s more.
Another of the 30 Point Strategies projects was the infamous hate-film Obsession, possibly one of the most expensive hate campaigns in US history. Some 28 million copies of the documentary which essentially compared Islam to Nazism, were sent to newsletter subscribers in mostly swing states during the ’08 presidential election. They provoked charges of efforts to influence an American election. (Funding was later traced in part to Aish HaTorah, a religious Zionist Israel aligned organization). According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 30 Point Strategies was one of two communications firms that worked on the project.
As Corey Saylor, who is in charge of monitoring Islamophobia at the DC- based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, “The PR firm 30 Points Strategies has a troubling involvement, such as distributing the hate-film Obsession, in poisoning public discussions. It is not productive for groups seeking an inclusive society to accept advice from them.”
Kate Nahapetian, Government Affairs Director of the Armenian National Committte of America, had even stronger words: “30 Point Strategies’ profiting from Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial inflicts pain and suffering on the families of survivors and is despicable.”
It is clear that Hillel International has become a designated frontline defense against the growing number of campus based efforts to make Israel accountable to international law. As such, Neusner seems to be the person being dispatched to monitor and respond.
But oddly, Hillel International’s pick is likely to even further exacerbate tensions with the remarkably diverse and growing, broad-based movement for divestment and boycott on campuses. Seen another way, their pick of Neusner is in some way a perfect illustration of why these unified coalitions are forming—students of color, Muslims, students from colonized countries, queer and trans students, feminists and so forth all see clearly the links between the oppression of Palestinians and their own historic marginalization. In this case, the links couldn’t be more concrete.
And more obvious, the increasingly vocal new generation of thinking, progressive Jews like those of Open Hillel simply won’t accept such horrific moral game-playing. Moves like these are simply further evidence of the growing irrelevance of old-school Jewish communal politics that throw out everything young Jews learned about Tikkun Olam, healing the world, when it comes to supporting Israel, right or wrong. As one student repeated at the UCLA hearing, they believe without a doubt that none of us are free until all of us are free.
Tactics aside, Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s executive director gets the last word here. As he said of Neusner and his lobbying back in 2008 “This is a moral issue,” he said. “There is no wiggle room on the issue of genocide denial, just as on the issue of Holocaust denial.”
There is no public record that we could find of Neusner ever having disavowed his work on behalf of these clients.