Just mention the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and, as readers of Muzzlewatch well know, certain folks who declare themselves Israel’s greatest supporters try to shut down the discussion. And nothing makes them more apoplectic than the piece of BDS that is sticky even for many who embrace the tactic generally: the academic and cultural boycott. To impede the free exchange of ideas among scholars and artists, the argument goes, violates a core value.
So how will Israel’s self-appointed defenders respond to a recent threat by some Israeli scientists to remove themselves from international scientific bodies, scholarly journals and conferences, and even opportunities for research grants? No, not a new lab-coat brigade joining the BDS campaign. These scientists propose withdrawing from $106 million of potential funding in the name of defending their state against European “scorn for Israel.” They mean to punish the European Union by refusing to cooperate with them. Continue reading →
Unlike hamburgers, which are either kosher or not, some boycotts are apparently more kosher than others.
The state of Israel and its supporters in the US have launched a full court press against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) — even though they’ve often dismissed the campaign as inconsequential and ineffective. Go figure. Such fruitless efforts have inspired legislation in the Knesset, passed in the spring, that allows targets of BDS to sue its advocates without having to prove that they sustained any harm. And here in the U.S., Malcolm Hoenlein head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, recently announced plans for a major offensive against the BDS movement on college campuses. This drive will be joining a multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network.
But at the end of June, when McDonald’s Israel franchise turned down an invitation to open a branch at a mall under construction in the West Bank’s sprawling Jewish settlement, Ariel, settlers immediately called for a boycott of the chain. Continue reading →
American Muslims for Palestine launched an ad campaign this week on San Francisco buses condemning Israeli apartheid. (See below.) Predictably, local branches of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Jewish Community Relations Council, immediately issued a statement in effect calling the ad hate speech for using the word ‘apartheid’. They have called on “all civic, ethnic and religious leaders who oppose bigoted lies and demonization to exercise their constitutional rights by condemning these inflammatory advertisements.”
Below is a line by line reading of their media statement.
First, it’s hard to know if the people who wrote this press release actually believe what they wrote. The points they make against the ad are so off the mark, and often offensive, it’s hard to believe anyone could write them sincerely. (I’m deleting the names on the release because I don’t think it’s fair to blame them. I think people at the top should be held accountable for such nonsense.) Continue reading →
An event is taking place in New York City on April 4th to discuss the following questions: Is Israel—or can it be—a democracy? Is there—or can there be—equality in Israel? Can a Jewish state be democratic? The current realities in Palestine/Israel, and deep concerns about justice and equality, make this conversation urgent. Two high-profile rabbis in New York City played key, and starkly contrasting, roles as the planningfor this event unfolded.
One rabbi did not want the conversation to happen at all—at least not in any space over which he had control.The very mention of BDS in the flyer announcing the event—that this panel had grown out of questions asked at an earlier panel on BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions]—made the conversation, in his words, “beyond the pale;” it was not going to take place in his “home.” And so he had his assistant cancel the contract the synagogue had signed to rent out its space for the event. (Only when we held him to account with his contractual liability did he grudgingly back down, telling us he wished we would go elsewhere and demanding that we not use the name of the synagogue even as part of the address in our promotional materials lest the synagogue suffer “reputational harm” for which we would be held responsible.) Continue reading →
A surprising, even thrilling mix of prominent New York Jews wants to have a discussion about what until recently has been the ultimate unaskable question: can Israel be both a democracy and a Jewish state? And they want to have that discussion in a prominent shul.
The Upper West Side synagogue Ansche Chesed agrees to the forum, until the senior rabbi gets wind of the event and decides to cancel the contract, he says, based on the concern that the topic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) may, possibly, might, perhaps, could potentially…come up in the conversation. (Read the whole breaking story here.)
But the goal-posts for acceptable discourse are shifting rapidly and the tale has a great ending. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), unafraid of a good debate on an issue people are dying to discuss, has stepped up and will host the April 4 event. (Download flyer here.) Continue reading →
[Editor's note: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's video report (above) on Israel-defense training for students made me think that now would be a good time to re-publish Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort. My colleague Sydney Levy and I wrote it this summer in response to the UC Berkeley divestment struggle and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor's rather strange response to the effort.
In watching the JTA video in which the national head of Hillel is trying to make a subtle point but revealingly ends up comparing Muslims to vampires, I'd add that it has never been so clear to me how older Jews have failed this younger generation. Students are smart enough to handle an open conversation about complexity and Israel. But many in the older generation in power don't want that to happen. The fundamental irony, of course, is that when it comes to both delegitimizing and existentially threatening Israel, no critic can hold a candle to Israel itself and its ever-expanding settlement project (and human rights abuses etc...) There is no faster way for Israel to continue down the path of self-destruction than to continue the status quo, unhindered. In that very important sense, the BDS movement may be Israel's last chance. Especially now that we know that Congress and the Obama administration is no more willing to hold Netanyahu accountable than previous administrations.]
Lessons from the UC Berkeley Divestment Effort
By Cecilie Surasky and Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace
(June 1, 2010) Israel right-or-wrong apologists have reason to be worried after three lengthy UC Berkeley student senate hearings concluded each with a solid majority of votes (60% or more) in favor of divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Though in the end, the vote fell 1 short of the needed supermajority required to overturn a veto, neither our opponents nor we forget that a clear majority consistently supported the bill.
Now, a few weeks after the hearings are over, it is a good time to examine how familiar tactics were deployed to stop the divestment effort and are now being used to prevent future similar ones. These tactics do not advance the cause of peace and have the unintended potential to cause harm to Jews in the US. Silencing debate, confusing the facts, taking over student senates, making indiscriminate charges of anti-Semitism, criminalizing anti-occupation activism, implicitly or explicitly condoning widespread hostility against Muslims, Palestinians, and anti-occupation Jews – these are the tactics with which we’ve unfortunately become too familiar. We’ll review them below.
1) Silencing debate
The first tactic, which predates UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, is the effort to shut down debate within the Jewish community. The story is an old one, but given the growing level of desperation among the Israel right-or-wrong crowd, the measures being deployed are increasingly bold and destructive.
Just a few months ago, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation issued the most restrictive funding guidelines in the country. These guidelines aim to silence open discussion within the institutional Jewish community on Israeli policies and the merits of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. And they also have led to an old-fashioned blacklist of well-known human rights groups now banned from the Federation’s donor designated fund’s acceptable charities list.
The guidelines’ impact has not gone unnoticed. An open letter in The Forward signed by Jewish professors, rabbis, and other notables from both the left and center describes the San Francisco Federation guidelines in these terms:
Despite the guidelines’ repeatedly stated commitment to the values of free and open discussion and diversity, they will have a chilling effect on the entire spectrum of community institutions, including educational, service, social justice and arts organizations. They will also limit American Jewish exposure to the range of art, literature, scholarship, and political discourse that exists in Israel. The guidelines will encourage self-censorship. Organizations will fear losing their funding; individuals will fear losing their jobs.
Though the ad is written in future tense about the negative effects the guidelines will have, we know for certain that these effects have already taken hold. Fearing loss of jobs or funding, people are staying quiet.
This effort to stifle debate inside our communities has ironically meant that the only way that Jews have been able to speak face-to-face with other Jews about divestment has been at the UC Berkeley hearings. And what the hearings revealed was striking: an authentic crisis in the Jewish community. By all appearances, the number of Jewish supporters of divestment on campus easily matched the number of opponents. The group that sponsored the divest initiative, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), includes many Israelis and Jews as well as Palestinians and Muslims and many others of various faiths and nationalities, and the co-author of the divest bill himself is an Israeli Jew. Many Jewish professors, including members of the Jewish studies program, came out in support of the divest bill.
The Federation guidelines not only prevent an open conversation on these critically important issues, but they also banish these Jewish studies professors and the Jewish and Israeli students from any public forum on Israel funded by the Federation. The guidelines banish some of our best and most knowledgeable minds from the conversations where we truly need them most. By silencing debate, the Israel right-or-wrong advocates get to act like they’re speaking for the majority of Jews. But we know that they are not. For now, they’ve shut down public debate inside the Jewish institutional world, and their McCarthyite methods cast a long shadow. But the divestment hearing shows that whether or not the Jewish institutional world is ready, these conversations will take place because people, including many Jews, want to have them.
2) Confusing the Facts
The second tactic we saw used, yet again, was a consistent campaign to mislead the public about the nature of specific divestment resolutions. Many in the Jewish world, including the director of Berkeley Hillel ignored the fact that the UC Berkeley divestment resolution addressed only the Israeli occupation and repeatedly suggested instead that it targeted Israel as a whole.
At an AIPAC conference in Washington in late March, AIPAC leadership development director Jonathan Kessler said that his organization would “make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote,” as recorded in a video taken at the conference by the JTA. “This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s Capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses,” he said.
You can watch the chilling but frank video with Mr. Kessler’s statement here, where Mr. Kessler explicitly refers to the Berkeley resolution. This of course did not stop an AIPAC spokesperson from declaring:
“We took no position on the Berkeley student election, since like in any other election, we don’t rate or endorse candidates. Of course we would always, publicly and consistently, encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”
This year alone, about 1,300 students from all 50 states were offered a travel junket to DC to attend an AIPAC conference and learn the finer points of Israeli Hasbara. About a quarter of those in attendance were student government presidents, the kinds of leaders that can veto a divestment bill, just like UC Berkeley student senate president Will Smelko did. What is striking, as documented in the AIPAC video, is that a number of these student leaders had not heard of AIPAC before the offer of the free trip. Continue reading →
It is amazing to me how little the script varies from muzzle attempt to muzzle attempt, but this recent example shows remarkable fealty to muzzling’s rich history. Josef Olmert, brother of former Prime Minister Ehud, is concerned about the BDS movement’s rise and potential for even greater growth on US college campuses. So how does he express this concern?
I possess a list of thousands of American academics calling for a boycott of Israel. The number of Jews among them is overwhelming.
What’s next, Un-Jewish-American Activities hearings at every Hillel? In a threefer, Olmert manages to reproduce the paranoia of the Old “I have here in my hand [a list of communists]” McCarthyism as well as its obsession with the number of Jews and State Department employees amongst its enemies.
I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the BDS Movement and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department. . . .
Among students, anti-Israel sentiment is its strongest in Middle Eastern studies departments and research centers, decades ago hijacked by anti-Israel teachers. Frighteningly, present students and researchers are the future staffers of the U.S. State Department and the intelligence community. Clearly, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus is dangerous, Israel and her supporters cannot afford to lose this battle.
All we need now if for him to say something homophobic and the history lesson will be complete. So how can we fight this BDS menace?
To combat these forces, supporters on campus must do a better job at presenting Israel’s case with clear, straight, and concise facts.
Rather like a teacher trainer lecturing about the importance of avoiding lecture, Olmert’s piece does not seem too heavy on facts. But I guess that sounds better than “hysterical innuendo, paranoid hyperbole, and guilt by association.” All this for a transparent movement whose members sign public petitions and have all night open debates on the issue!
Olmert closes with the following battle call,
On the eve of a new academic year, I make an urgent call to the pro-Israel community. Time is running out. Israel can win this war currently raging on the American campus, but for that to happen, Israel’s supporters must act quickly and decisively. My only question is: Who’s coming with me?
My guess is, probably people unconcerned with civil liberties, human rights, or academic freedom. I look forward to following this BDS-baiting further.
Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month. “There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.
We begin with some descriptions of actual anti-Semitism, namely an ad denying the Holocaust and anonymous internet posts, which sound bad if not exactly a groundswell of hatred. But within a sentence, we move to an unnamed professor charged with “making openly false statements about Israel.” No examples are given, but the professor whoever she or he is, is now in league with neo-Nazis and people who believe Jews had it coming. Whatever the real threats this student faces are now conflated with political views that differ from hers, and it sounds like Hillel’s trainings on Israel advocacy are doing nothing to sharpen that distinction. The article does not give any other examples of the titular “anti-Israel” sentiment “on the lesson plan,” implying in the classroom.
Rather, the focus is on the BDS movement, which is predicted to be “better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic” this school year. The first two seem quite likely, but no evidence of the latter is given. Instead, anti Divestment students are warned that their foes have…better technology!
Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.
Now we come to the heart of the matter, divestment resolutions on campus.
Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, activists say, the charged atmosphere leaves lasting wounds.
Actually, Berkeley passed one too, and it was vetoed by a campus President. And what are those lasting wounds? Seeing Jews who disagree with you.
When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April, Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing across the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.
The article does not actually interview any of these strange creatures, these Jews for BDS, But their very existence is painful,and Copans feels bad for them.
‘Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,’ she said. ‘I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.’
However much pain is being felt, it seems clear that Hillel has NOT drawn the lesson that truly representing all Jewish students means allowing for a range of positions on Israel. Instead, students with differing views or who just don’t want to engage in this debate are compared to a piece of defective furniture.
‘For the average student, Israel is a problem — and they don’t want more problems,’ said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. ‘It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.’
Wayne Firestone, the Hillel executive, said: ‘We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear.
We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.’
Free advice, Michael and Wayne: lay off the carpentry metaphors, stick to the actual anti-Semitsim your students face, and stand up for them and their values, not the “Israel issue.”
Here’s a lesson in democracy. In preparation for the upcoming November elections a group of local activists sent a questionnaire to the 85 candidates from their county running for seats in the state legislature. They hoped the information they’d receive would encourage debate and allow voters to make better decisions at the ballot box.
What did they get instead? They got slammed. Their survey was called “abhorrent and repulsive,” and the newspaper that brought the charges against them ignored their calls for a reasonable policy debate and did not allow them to respond with as little as a letter to the editor.
The candidate survey from Peace Action Montgomery came under attack for a single question in it, that – you guessed it – addressed the Israeli occupation.
Question 5 is composed of only three sentences. The first two are statements of facts:
1. “In the past, the Maryland state legislature has exercised its power to order the state’s pension system to divest its holdings in companies that are complicit in illegal activities in other countries.”
2. “The World Court has ruled that Israel’s separation wall and settlements in the West Bank are illegal.”
Based on those facts, a legitimate policy question is asked:
“Would you support a similar divestment bill targeting companies that knowingly participate in these illegal activities in Israel?”
The question does not single out Jews. It does not even single out Israel. It does single out actions that break international law. What’s wrong with that?
Ask Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who described the questionnaire by Peace Action Montgomery as “abhorrent and repulsive.” The JCRC holds its own set of candidate forums and distributes questionnaires to inform its members. But apparently others cannot do as much.
This whole controversy erupted on the front page of the local Washington Jewish Week (“Parsing the D-word”). Peace Action Montgomery was quoted in the D-article, but its letter to the editor following the publication of the slander was never printed. In that letter, Peace Action Montgomery called for an open, reasonable debate on the merits of BDS, pro and con. The group even invited the paper that slandered it to co-moderate the debate. But the Washington Jewish Week has chosen to ignore the invitation altogether. What are they so afraid of?
We print here what the Washington Jewish week would not publish:
“Parsing the D Word” (July 29) not only pointed out the controversy over using divestment as a strategy to encourage Israel to abide by international laws regarding human rights; it also included statements by an unidentified Jewish backer to MD Delegate, Jim Pettit, that slammed Peace Action Montgomery as “a façade” and questioned its legitimacy as an organization that truly promotes peace. In reality, anyone who took the time to review our activities would see that we have consistently opposed military interventions and U.S. funding of ALL military occupations, but particularly those in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, since they garner by far the largest chunk of U.S. taxpayer dollars. We also vehemently oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry and are offended at being defamed for our support for human rights, protection of civil rights and opposition to violations of the rule of law.
Our question to the Washington Jewish Week is why the published article neglected to point out that our letter in response to Delegate Kramer invited him to join us in a public debate on the issue of how best to advance a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with Washington Jewish Week as a co-moderator of the event, along with a representative of another organization.
We have had no response to that invitation and so propose it again. We hope that Del. Kramer and/or Washington Jewish Week will accept this invitation for a much needed dialogue on this significant issue.
My JVP colleague Sydney Levy just posted on our sister blog, TheOnlyDemocracy? This effort seems largely triggered by the Palestinian boycott of settlement goods which has already had a significant economic impact. Ynet reports:
The bill was initiated by the Land of Israel lobby in the Knesset and was endorsed by members of various factions, including Kadima party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi.
by Sydney Levy |
What is Israel’s reaction to the growing nonviolent movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions? Well criminalize it, of course!
We just learned new bill has been introduced in the Israeli Knesset by 25 Knesset members, that would criminalize all boycott activities or even boycott advocacy inside or outside Israel. You can find info about this in English here and with more detail in Hebrew here.
The proposed bill would target those that initiate, encourage, or provide assistance or information about boycotts against Israel.
Israeli citizens or residents of Israel could be sued by whoever was harmed by the boycott and would have to pay up to 30,000 shekels in restitution and an additional amount according to the harm established by the Israeli courts. This provision would endanger the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, Boycott from Within, among others.
Those that are neither citizens nor residents of Israel would lose the ability of entering Israel for at least ten years and would be forbidden from economic activity in Israel (holding an account in an Israeli bank, owning Israeli stocks, land, or any other good that requires registration.) It is not clear whether this provision would apply also to entry into the West Bank, although Prof. Noam Chomsky’s denial of entry may be a sign of things to come.
A group in a foreign country would also be forbidden from economic activism in Israel. This would apply to the Palestinian Authority as well. In the case of the PA, Israel would freeze transfer of money it owes and would use it to pay restitution to those harmed in Israel by the PA boycott of settlement goods.