Royce Hall at UCLA

BDS debate at UCLA breaks no new ground


campus debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on May 22 at UCLA offered little in the way of new ideas or understanding, as representatives on each side held to their well-established positions.

An audience of about 100 students and adults listened and made clear their sentiments — with cheers and boos — as professors Judea Pearl and Saree Makdisi were the featured speakers for their respective sides.

Both stated personal connections to their positions at the two-hour event, organized and moderated by the UCLA Debate Union.

Although the debate was devoid of references to President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel and lacked formal consequences for the BDS campaign at UCLA, it did provide a view into how American universities have become both training ground and battleground for advocacy on Middle East issues.

While Makdisi, who is of Palestinian descent, took most of the speaking time for the pro-BDS side, Pearl shared his time with Philippe Assouline, a doctoral student who teaches an Israeli history course at the university.

“Jewish students are being forced to choose between pride in their people — due pride — and acceptance on campus,” Assouline said in the anti-BDS side’s opening remarks.

Pearl, a computer-science professor and father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl called the BDS movement a “slander machine” with “small character,” and argued that its unwillingness to compromise impeded the peace process.

“Rejectionism is the main obstacle to the two-state solution,” Pearl said. “No country can come to life that seeks the elimination of its neighbors.”

The BDS movement originated in 2005 as a broad international boycott on Israeli products and has gained the most traction on American college campuses, particularly on University of California (UC) campuses. It has been a defining political issue at UCLA in recent years as student government elections have become a proxy war for supporters of Israel and Palestine beyond the school.

The movement aims to force Israel to accede to various demands for Palestinian human rights, including Israel’s withdrawal from West Bank settlements and the dismantling of the security barrier at the Green Line.

In November 2014, UCLA’s undergraduate student government became the fifth UC campus to pass a resolution in favor of BDS. The motion called for the school to divest any endowment funds from companies that do business with the Israeli government or military.

“BDS is moral because it’s a time-honored, effective and nonviolent method for people of goodwill to contest the injustice of states that have proven themselves unresponsive to other modes of persuasion,” said Makdisi, who teaches English literature. He presented a history of Palestinians’ expulsion from their homes in 1948 and asserted that Israeli leaders, anticipating the forthcoming refugee crisis, uprooted them anyway.

He also suggested that there is no such thing as an Israeli nationality, countering Pearl’s argument that Israelis and Palestinians are “equally indigenous” and therefore equally deserve statehood.

The debate provided an opportunity for new voices to join the fray. A pair of students on each side served as the undercards, displaying a range of experience and methodology as they laid the groundwork for the professors, who were given nine minutes each to the students’ seven.

There was plenty for the engaged but divided crowd to cheer and scoff at. The loudest reaction of the night was a chorus of long groans and derisive laughter as Makdisi asked in his closing argument, “You hear the language of, ‘Oh, my God, the Arabs will outnumber us,’ and ‘Oh, my God, the Jews will become a minority.’ What’s so bad about being a minority?”

The Debate Union’s faculty adviser, who was moderating the debate, asked for order to allow Makdisi to continue. 

Saree Makdisi

UCLA Professor: What’s wrong with Jews being a minority in Israel?


Finally, after about an hour of partisan arguments from both sides, I heard something that got my attention.

I was attending an event sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union, billed as “A Spirited Debate on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).” It featured, on one side, Professor Judea Pearl and students Philippe Assouline and Joseph Kahn, and, on the other, Professor Saree Makdisi and students Ahmad Azzawi and Wali Kamal.

In front of a diverse audience of about 100 people, the Judea Pearl side argued the motion that “BDS is not moral.”

Nothing surprised me too much in the back and forth. The Pearl side reiterated the well-known arguments against BDS — namely, that it is out to undermine the Jewish state rather than search for peace –while the Makdisi side framed BDS as fighting the Israeli occupation with the best non-violent tool available.

While we’ve heard many of the arguments before, it was helpful to hear them all in one place and in a civil manner, with no yelling and insults. You could feel some underlying tension throughout the debate, but the panelists made a genuine effort to conduct themselves with civility.

Professor Makdisi based many of his arguments on universal values such as fairness, equality, justice, and so on. Focusing on those values helped him finesse the Achilles Heel of the BDS movement– the fact that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Promoting the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, for example, means the effective end of the Jewish state, what a panelist on the Pearl side called “national suicide.”

Makdisi took that word — suicide — and ran with it, almost ridiculing it as an example of needless hysterics from the Zionist side. You could see where he was going. What kind of just society would treat the arrival of Palestinians as a national suicide? Sure, there may be a huge number of Palestinians who would enter the Jewish state, but what’s wrong with Arabs and Jews living side by side, in full equality, in the same state and under the same government?

Then, he really got the audience’s attention when he blurted out these words:

“What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?”

There was a gasp among pro-Israel supporters. Professor Pearl made a grimace, commenting that minorities are not treated very well in the Middle East.

I have a feeling Makdisi himself regretted his words as soon as he said them.

Why? Because he’s no fool. He’s a knowledgeable professor, and he surely knows what’s wrong with Jews being a minority in a country of the Middle East.

He knows that, for centuries, Jews in Arab and Muslim countries were treated as second-class citizens, or Dhimmis. He knows that many of those Jews were persecuted and expelled after the birth of Israel in 1948.

He knows that there are 50 Muslim countries in the world, but only one Jewish state.

He knows that in many of those 50 countries, minorities are routinely persecuted and oppressed.

And he knows that in the Jewish-majority country of Israel, the Arab minority has more civil rights, freedom, legal protections and economic opportunities than Arabs have virtually anywhere else in the Middle East.

He knows all of that.

So, when he said, so innocently, “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?” he probably forgot who was in the audience. Maybe he thought he was talking to a Students for Justice in Palestine crowd, for whom a Jewish minority in the Jewish state would be like manna from heaven.

But he wasn’t. There were some proud Zionists in the audience, and I was one of them.

I’m a Jew who was born in an Arab country, where my ancestors were a minority for centuries. The stories I heard were not of human rights and equality. They were stories about surviving by behaving — by keeping our heads down and never forgetting our second-class status. My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

That’s why for 1900 years Jews from all over the world yearned to return home to Zion and Jerusalem. That’s why the Zionist movement fought so hard for the rebirth of the Jewish state. Because the Jewish experience of being a vulnerable minority in a hostile land is certainly not one we want to relive.

When Professor Makdisi suggested that Jews should become dhimmis again in their own country, he told us what the BDS movement is really about– and it wasn’t very moral.

Sodastream CEO Daniel Birnbaum posing for a photograph at the SodaStream factory next to the Israeli city of Rahat. Photo by Dan Balilty/AP Images

SodaStream bringing 74 West Bank Palestinians back to work at Negev plant


Some 74 Palestinian employees of SodaStream, who lost their jobs when the company shut its West Bank plant in the face of international pressure, will return to work at its factory in southern Israel.

The employees’ work permits, which allowed them to enter Israel from the West Bank, expired in February 2016.

The Israeli government agreed to reinstate the permits after persistent requests from SodaStream and its CEO Daniel Birnbaum, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

“We are delighted to welcome back our 74 devoted Palestinian employees, who are able to join their 1,500 friends at our Rahat facility in the Negev,” Birnbaum told the newspaper. “The Israeli government did the moral and honorable thing to grant work permits to our employees, who can now provide for their families and also prove that coexistence is possible.”

In October 2014, SodaStream announced it would close its factory in Maale Adumim and move to southern Israel in the face of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which seeks to hurt Israel’s economy over its policies toward the Palestinians. The movement claimed that SodaStream discriminated against Palestinian workers and paid some less than Israeli workers.

Some 500 Palestinian employees lost their jobs at that time. Israel gave the remaining 74 employees permission to enter the country and continue to work for SodaStream until February 2016.

The company now has more than 1,400 employees in the Idan Hanegev industrial park near Rahat, one-third of them Bedouin Arabs from the surrounding area.

The Palestinian employees will have to leave for work at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the long commute and be there on time, but at least one told the Post that he does not care.

“SodaStream is our second home,” Ali Jafar, 42, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “When you have the opportunity to return home, you return.”

Members of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Rautenberg New Leaders Project assemble in Sacramento on May 9. Photo by Aubrey Farkas

Jewish lobbying group takes message to Sacramento


An array of Jewish organizations has joined forces to tell lawmakers in Sacramento to stand up for immigrants, protect houses of faith and reduce child poverty.

The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) is the largest single-state coalition of Jewish organizations in the nation, comprising local Jewish federations, Jewish community relations committees and councils, and other Jewish community advocacy groups such as Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Family Service.

Every year, its members converge at the Capitol to lobby state senators, assemblymembers and legislative staff on behalf of issues that its member organizations deem important to the Jewish community. This year’s message was carried on May 9.

“Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents, not just from a lobbyist,” said Julie Zeisler, executive director of JPAC.

“They want to know that there’s actual community organizing going on that will impact them and their electability. They also need to know that the community really cares about these issues.”

In past years, JPAC members lobbied for issues of particular interest to Jews, such as support for Israel, divestment from Iran and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. They have also focused on universal issues such as renters’ rights, mental health services, gun control, human trafficking, employment retaliation and school bullying.

“We do a very detailed ranking system, because there are many issues that the Jewish community cares about,” Zeisler said. JPAC’s organizations then work to reach a consensus on the issues of greatest importance to their members.

Zeisler is a recent graduate of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Rautenberg New Leaders Program. The program, which includes professionals working in government, law and entertainment, took part in JPAC this year. (Full disclosure: I am a current participant in the program and was invited to attend the event but did not take an active role in the lobbying meetings.)

This year, JPAC advocated for AB 1520, a bill that commits the Legislature to a goal of reducing child poverty in California by 50 percent over 20 years. It would achieve this through a designated task force and additional resources for social safety net programs, such as child care, housing subsidies and cash assistance.

JPAC also asked members to support the 16-member California Legislative Jewish Caucus’ request for $2 million for security grants for nonprofit centers, following a wave of threats against centers dedicated to Jewish, Muslim, LGBT, immigrant and other groups. The money could be spent on reinforced doors and gates, alarm systems, security trainings and other expenses.

The third focus of this year’s advocacy day was a package of seven bills related to immigration. These bills would counteract recent measures by President Donald Trump’s administration to ramp up deportation of undocumented immigrants and restrict citizens of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

The immigration bills would accomplish a number of things, including:

• Train public defenders on immigration rights.

• Prohibit landlords from threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities.

• Restrict Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from freely entering a public school.

• Prevent the creation of a Muslim registry (or one for any religious, ethnic or national group).

• Prohibit state and local law enforcement from engaging in immigration enforcement.

While JPAC holds an advocacy day once a year, it also employs a lobbyist, Cliff Berg, to meet with lawmakers year round. Berg has represented JPAC for nearly 20 years and is seeing an increase in civic engagement.

“The Trump administration has served as a lightning rod for galvanizing Californians of all faiths and ethnicities to get more engaged in the political process and stand up for California values,” Berg said. “We are not a partisan organization, but I think our member organizations reflect the concerns and policy priorities of the majority of Californians.”

This year, JPAC invited Jewish student leaders from UCLA and Cal State Northridge to attend its advocacy day. As college campuses have become ground zero for debates about Israel and the BDS movement, “this is really important for our students’ leadership development, and it’s a great personal growth and learning opportunity for our students,” said Amir Kashfi, the incoming president of UCLA’s student Israel advocacy organization.

Before meeting with lawmakers, JPAC attendees listened to a series of speakers at a hotel near the Capitol address concerns about health care and immigration.

They also heard from two keynote speakers. The first, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, encouraged residents of the state to take their issues to the Statehouse and their elected leaders. He said that when he’s asked what California can do to combat Trump’s policies, it comes down to “legislation, litigation and organization.”

The second, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a son of working-class Mexican immigrants, reminded the crowd that “there wasn’t a group that came to the U.S. that didn’t get vilified, that wasn’t ostracized, at first.”

Becerra has filed several lawsuits against the federal government on environmental issues, such as defending the Clean Power Plan and energy efficiency standards, while others targeted immigration actions, including the threat to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary cities” and states that refuse to work with federal immigration agents.

“I’m talking to a crowd that understands the scourge of having labels applied to them,” Becerra told the audience.

Fully armed with data about health care and immigration, the JPAC crowd divided into small groups to meet with state lawmakers and their staffs.

But even if no decisions were reversed and no lawmaker was persuaded to change a vote, participants all seemed to agree that the effort to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the Jewish community is worth it.

“They are so excited to meet with us. They want to talk to us, they want to hear what we have to say,” said Stacey Dorenfeld of Hadassah Southern California. “The fact that we care makes them want to care.”

UC Santa Barbara students react to the UCSB student government’s rejection of a proposed Israel divestment resolution. Photo by Rabbi Evan Goodman

Cal State Long Beach, UCSB differ on Israel divestment resolutions


The topic of Israel divestment and higher education returned, front and center, last week as students at two Southern California universities voted on the issue — with differing results.

The student government at Cal State University Long Beach on May 10 voted in favor of Israel divestment while students at the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) voted against it a day later.

Associated Students Inc., an advocacy group at Cal State Long Beach, passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that the resolution alleges perpetuate Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, citing such companies as Caterpillar, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.

“I was very disappointed with the passage of the bill,” Jeffrey Blutinger, the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and the director of the Jewish studies program at Cal State Long Beach, told the Journal. “While I’m not going to say [all] anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, this one is.”

The resolution is titled “Suggestions for Socially Responsible Investing: Companies Complicit in and Profiting from Palestinian Oppression.” General Electric, according to a draft of the resolution, has provided supplies to the Israel Defense Forces “used in violent attacks on people living in Israel and Palestine.”

The vote followed an April 26 statement by Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley expressing opposition to the resolution. She said she could not support it despite her reservations about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

“A careful study of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel,” Conoley said.

Blutinger, faculty adviser at Beach Hillel, which serves Cal State Long Beach, said Conoley’s opposition to the resolution garnered criticism from pro-divestment faculty members.

“I thought that was nonsense. The fact that she spoke out does not prevent them from speaking out, and the fact she is the president of the university does not mean she doesn’t have the right to express herself,” he said. “If she was supporting them, they would have been happy.”

While the passage of the resolution at Cal State Long Beach is more symbolic than practical — it will not impact Cal State Long Beach investments — Beach Hillel Executive Director Rachel Kaplan said last week’s events reinforced the unwelcoming environment facing pro-Israel students. “In terms of campus climate, we have a lot of work to do,” Kaplan said.

Further north, the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the UCSB student senate, voted 16-0 with seven abstentions against an Israel divestment resolution, according to the Daily Nexus, the campus newspaper. The vote followed an all-night debate that concluded at 4 a.m. with more than 400 students and observers attending. Among them was Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Hillel.

“Resolutions like this are symbolically attempting to destroy Israel, so I don’t stand for it and our students don’t stand for it,” Goodman said in a phone interview on May 12.

This was the fourth time in five years that a resolution calling for divestment in Israel has come before the UCSB student senate. Goodman described last week’s meeting as more agreeable than previous ones.

“It was a pretty civil discussion overall, and the comments made [on both sides of the debate] were by and large appropriate,” he said.

Rose Ettleson, a sophomore and president-elect at Santa Barbara Hillel, said a familial atmosphere galvanized the pro-Israel side.

“On our side, it really felt almost like a family gathering. There were lots of rabbis from the local Chabad. And the local Jewish Awareness Movement, JAM, they brought food for everyone. Hillel staff brought food. People were studying. People were writing what they were going to say,” she said. “Some people were sleeping in some moments.”

The campus group Students for Justice in Palestine on April 23 proposed the UCSB resolution, titled “Divest From Companies that Profit From Human Rights Violations in Palestine/Israel.”

The university “has the highest percentage of Jewish students in the UC system and probably the largest total number of undergraduate Jewish students,” Goodman said.

In statements released May 11, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which works with college students to combat anti-Israel sentiment, hailed the UCSB vote while condemning the vote at Cal State Long Beach.

Tali Shaddaei, a fifth-year Cal State Long Beach student from Pico-Robertson, said the intention of the resolution’s supporters at her school was to quiet pro-Israel advocacy on campus. But the 22-year-old founder of 49ers for Israel, a pro-Israel education club at Cal State Long Beach, said the passage of the resolution could have the opposite effect.

“My hope is it ignites a fire within the pro-Israel community to fight stronger and be more united in our efforts,” she said. 

University of California, Santa Barbara students following the UC Santa Barbara’s student government rejection of a proposed Israel divestment resolution. Photo by Santa Barbara Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Evan Goodman

CSU Long Beach passes Israel divestment resolution; UCSB votes against resolution


The student government at CSU Long Beach (CSULB) on May 10 voted in favor of Israel divestment while UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) voted against it a day later.

The Associated Students Inc., an advocacy group at CSULB, passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that the resolution alleges perpetuate Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, citing such companies as Caterpillar, General Electric and Hewlett Packard.

The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.

The resolution is titled “Suggestions for Socially Responsible Investing: Companies Complicit in and Profiting from Palestinian Oppression.”

General Electric, according to a draft of the resolution, has provided supplies to the Israeli Defense Forces “used in violent attacks on people living in Israel and Palestine.”

The vote followed an April 26 statement by CSULB President Jane Close Conoley expressing opposition to the resolution. She said she could not support it despite her reservations about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

“A careful study of the BDS movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel,” Conoley said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Conoley was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

The Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara (ASUCSB), the UCSB student senate, voted 16-0 with seven abstentions against an Israel divestment resolution, according to the Daily Nexus, the campus newspaper. The vote followed an all-night debate that concluded at 4 a.m. with more than 400 students and observers participating. Among them was Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Hillel.

The UCSB resolution was proposed on April 23 by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine.

Goodman was not immediately available for an interview on Thursday.

UCSB is the “last University of California campus to not pass a divestment resolution,” the Daily Nexus reported.

In statements released May 11, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which works with college students to combat anti-Israel sentiment, hailed the UCSB vote while condemning the vote at CSULB.

Dartmouth’s fraudulent choice of Bruce Duthu


Academic freedom is a cornerstone of everything our universities represent. The free exchange of ideas, even – or especially – controversial ones is essential to the academic excellence that all great universities strive to achieve.

But we have entered an upside-down world where the targeted restriction of academic freedom is used to deny the very freedom in purports to embrace.

Such is the case of Professor Bruce Duthu, who was recently appointed Dean of The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College. Duthu’s pedigree as a scholar of Native American Law and policy appears to be exemplary. But in dart2013 he was signatory to the “Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions” issued by the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

The declaration is a standard-issue boycott, which does not befit a professional scholars association. Its aim is to punish Israeli academic institutions because of their assumed support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. The document declares that the association is a “champion of intellectual and academic freedom,” but by calling for “members to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are implicated with the Israeli state,” it does just the opposite.

Institutions of higher education and academic scholarship cannot be separated. If you sanction academic institutions, you sanction scholars. And for scholars to sanction scholars is against every principle of academic respect and freedom. By signing the document, Duthu ventured far away from scholarship and into the world of political struggle, targeting his own peers.

The problem with Duthu’s position isn’t his position on the Middle East conflict; he’s entitled to his opinions. But to wrap it in an academic veneer and to single out Israeli scholarship for punishment is fraudulent. Those who call for singling out Israel for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction will deny they are anti-Semitic, but the result is clear: when you exclude a colleague by association to their affiliation with an Israeli institution of higher education, you are not targeting the State, you are targeting the individual.

On a 2012 visit to Israel, academic deans and faculty from USC were encouraged to engage more deeply with their peers in pursuit of shared intellectual research goals. That is what a university should do; we exist to pursue academic freedom irrespective of the political environment. Engaging with Israeli institutions and scholars is just the appropriate way to treat peers and colleagues who are pursuing research that benefits us all.

But one must ask why this group is targeting Israel while ignoring situations elsewhere. Where is the movement to divest from Saudi Arabia or Iran?  I do not believe it is ever the place of faculty to lead on political issues, but at the very least, applying principles equitably in your support of all those suffering would seem more humane, than singling out colleagues who are in fact the very people with the skills to help humanity globally.

I note that Dartmouth has a visitor program in mathematics that has attracted several prominent professors from Israel. If he were to hold fast to the principles outlined in the BDS document he coauthored, Duthu would terminate the relationship with these scholars – not for any lack of mathematical competence, but for the simple fact that they represent Israeli academic institutions. Will he do that?  He should if he is a principled and honest man.  He should not if he is Dean of Faculty of an Ivy League school. It seems he cannot have it both ways.

In 1938, a 15-year-old boy named Walter Kohn of Austria was expelled from his high school – not for his misbehavior or poor marks, but for the simple fact that he was Jewish in a Nazi world. Kohn’s life was spared by the Kindertransport, and he would go on to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998.

But imagine all the unrealized talent that has been extinguished – during the Holocaust and other humanitarian calamities – based on the senseless hatred and suspicion of entire groups.

“Science has made the world too small and too dangerous for that old-fashioned intolerance and hatred between different parts of humanity,” Kohn, who died last year, said in his testimony with USC Shoah Foundation. “We will all go down the drain together unless we learn how to deal with this problem.”

By casting suspicion on all scholars from a given country, Duthu brings us closer to the drain.

On behalf of faculty members across the globe for whom academic freedom is sacrosanct, Bruce Duthu must renounce the movement to boycott Israeli academics and stand up for academic freedom. Either that or stand down.


Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) on April 21. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders just defended Israel on Al Jazeera. Here’s why that’s a big deal.


In an appearance on Al Jazeera, Bernie Sanders defended Israel’s right to exist, rejected BDS as a tactic and assailed the United Nations for singling out the country for condemnation.

The Vermont senator’s interview Wednesday on the Qatar-based network, known for its often hypercritical coverage of Israel, was consistent with a style that Americans came to know last year during his run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination: Sanders does not modify his messaging for his audience.

Sanders, despite his defeat in the primaries to Hillary Clinton, who went on to lose to Donald Trump, remains the standard-bearer of the American left. His robust rejection of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is evidence that a firewall remains on the American left against more radical expressions of Israel criticism that have gained traction overseas.

The interviewer, Dena Takruri, challenged Sanders for joining every other U.S. senator last month in signing a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging him to remedy the body’s “anti-Israel agenda.”

Takruri asked why Sanders was “effectively trying to shield [Israel] from criticism.” Sanders interrupted, “No, no, no, no, no, I don’t accept that,” saying “there are many problems with Israel” and he would continue to “be critical of a lot of what Israel does.”

“On the other hand, to see Israel attacked over and over again for human rights violations which may be true, when you have countries like Saudi Arabia or Syria, Saudi Arabia – I’m not quite sure if a woman can even drive a car today,” Sanders said.

“So I think the thrust of that letter is not to say that Israel does not have human rights issues — it does — but to say how come it’s only Israel when you have other countries where women are treated as third-class citizens, where in Egypt, I don’t know how many thousands of people now lingering in jail, so that’s the point of that, not to defend Israel but to say why only Israel, you want to talk about human rights, let’s talk about human rights,” he said.

Asked by Takruri whether he “respected” BDS as a legitimate nonviolent protest movement, Sanders said, “No, I don’t.” The senator suggested in his reply that the tactic was counterproductive as a means of bringing the sides to peace talks.

“People will do what they want to do, but I think our job as a nation is to do everything humanly possible to bring Israel and the Palestinians and the entire Middle East to the degree that we can together, but no, I’m not a supporter of that,” he said.

“What must be done is that the United States of America is to have a Middle East policy which is even-handed, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity and does our best to bring them to the table.”

Sanders also rejected Takruri’s assertion that the two-state solution is almost dead and said he would not embrace a one-state solution.

“I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the State of Israel and I support Israel’s right to exist,” he said. “I think if there is the political will to make it happen and if there is good faith on both sides I do think it’s possible, and I think there has not been good faith, certainly on this Israeli government and I have my doubts about parts of the Palestinian leadership as well.”

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, was critical of conventional pro-Israel postures during the campaign, but also defended the state.

He told MSNBC last year that anti-Semitism was a factor driving the BDS movement, yet in a debate in the New York primary – with its critical mass of Jewish voters – Sanders chided Clinton for barely mentioning Palestinians in her speech earlier the same year to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

During the campaign, he hired as his Jewish outreach staffer Simone Zimmerman, who founded IfNotNow, which protests mainstream U.S. Jewish silence on Israel’s occupation. Although Sanders fired Zimmerman after her vulgar postings on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to light, the very hiring was a signal that there was now a political home for young Jews who embraced the idea of Israel but were willing to robustly protest its government’s actions.

Sanders also named prominent Israel critics to the Democrats platform-drafting committee, yet when their Israel-critical language was rejected, he nonetheless robustly endorsed the platform because it met his other demands on economic inequality. He described himself at a meeting in New York’s Harlem neighborhood as a “strong defender of Israel” and for the first time spoke warmly about the time he spent in Israel in the 1960s on a kibbutz.

Democrats in recent years have grown increasingly critical of Israel, a result in part of the parlous relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, and the fraught tone of the debate in 2015 over the Iran nuclear agreement.

But the tense tone of the Al Jazeera interview and Sanders’ refusal to accept anti-Israel pieties commonplace among progressives here and overseas suggests the resistance among Democrats to more radical expressions of Israel criticism. Democratic lawmakers, for instance, continue to join Republicans in overwhelmingly approving anti-BDS legislation on the state and federal levels.

Matthew Modine, Ed Asner, actress Ruby Modine and Hilary Helstein, executive director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Photo Credit: James Franklin at RozWolfPR

Defending Ed Asner, and Israel


The defenders of Israel fought a noble battle last week on behalf of the survival Jewish state. They forged a united front, raised their voices and rallied their troops. They charged into battle and came close, very close, to defeating their common enemy: Ed Asner.

Yeah, really. Ed Asner. The actor from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant.” The voice of Carl Fredricksen in “Up.” Santa Claus in “Elf.”

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival was all set to honor Asner with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its gala opening on April 26. Days before the event, two self-appointed defenders of Israel sent out a mass email denouncing the festival for choosing Asner, and calling on advertisers and attendees to boycott the event.

Their issue was that Asner, who is 87, is listed on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an advocacy group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.  BDS seeks to protest and reverse Israel’s policies, including its occupation of the West Bank, by boycotting all Israeli products and services, including its academic and cultural institutions. As I’ve written many times, it is a deeply anti-Israel movement under the guise of an anti-occupation movement. 

The connection between Asner, BDS and JVP — which, spoiler alert, turned out to be far more tenuous than it first appeared — raised the defenders of Israel to DEFCON 5.  Immediately, they sent out an email whose subject line read, “SHAME ON THE LOS ANGELES JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL.”

Because TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, is the sponsoring organization of the festival, we found ourselves at the bizarre end of a very small but very noisy pro-Israel advocacy effort.

As the events of the week played out, the experience gave me time to reflect on how the Jewish community decides who is inside and outside the tent, who is kosher and who is treif

In Israel, this has become a policy issue with diplomatic implications. The same week two well-meaning L.A. Jews were trying to take down a third for not meeting their standards of “pro-Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed the German foreign minister because the minister refused to cancel his meeting with the anti-occupation groups B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

And since at least 2010, Netanyahu’s government has passed laws against not just those who support BDS, but those, like many Israeli artists, who support in principle a boycott on goods from the West Bank.

The aim of these actions is to normalize Israel’s now 50-year occupation and criminalize opposition to it. Those who oppose it went from being dismissed as doves to being persecuted as outlaws.

BDS poses a unique threat to Israel, though not necessarily an existential one. But one could easily make the argument that the occupation, if it results in a single chaotic binational state or apartheid rule over Palestinians, poses a far greater, truly existential threat to a democratic Jewish state.

The point is, we can have an argument over this without criminalizing, demonizing or ostracizing those who take one position or another. Some BDS folks really do want to erase Israel. But the (mostly) young Jews who are attracted to the movement see it as a way to redress an injustice. I think they’re wrong, but I want to engage them.

Similarly, those who think annexing part or all of the West Bank is the best way to manifest Jewish destiny or achieve security are wrong — and possibly even more dangerous to the state’s future — but I want to speak with them, as well.

Ed Asner, it turns out, doesn’t support BDS. In an interview with Avishay Artsy before the festival, he told the Journal he was rethinking it. Later, he flatly denounced it.

“I just want peace,” he said.

That didn’t quiet the defenders of Israel. They called him and the festival frauds because Asner was still listed as an adviser to JVP. Because at 87, after receiving more Emmy Awards for acting than any male in history, after standing up for the rights of workers, the oppressed and the disabled his whole life, after donating endless time and money in support of Jewish and non-Jewish causes, after playing an active role in his own Jewish community — in other words, after doing more for humanity and the Jewish people than the vast majority of us — Asner still wasn’t kosher enough.

Ridiculous.

It’s important to note that not one of the major groups that support and defend Israel — StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee — signed on to the anti-Asner campaign. They cut the guy some slack — maybe because they assumed he heard the word “peace” and said, “Sure, use my name.” Or maybe because the Jewish people and Israel have real enemies to fight, and Lou Grant isn’t one of them.

The night of the gala, the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills was packed. Asner stood and received his award to a standing ovation.

And, I’m happy to report, somehow Israel survived.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

University of Wisconsin students proposed a resolution blaming Israel for police violence against African-Americans in the United States. Photo by James Steakley via WikiCommons.

University of Wisconsin student resolution blames Israel for police violence against African-Americans


The student government of the University of Wisconsin-Madison included an amendment specifically targeting Israel in a resolution calling for divestment from companies operating in many countries.

The resolution was passed Wednesday by the Associated Students of Madison by a 24-0 vote, with two abstentions. It calls on the university and its foundation to divest from companies involved in private prisons, arms manufacture, fossil fuels and border walls, and banks that “oppress marginalized communities.”

It also blames Israel for training U.S. police in tactics it says harm African-Americans.

The vote comes a month after a divestment resolution specifically targeting Israel failed to pass the student government and two weeks after the student government passed a proposal to create a new financial transparency and ethics subcommittee. The meeting was held April 12, the second day of Passover, when several Jewish representatives were absent.

Wednesday’s resolution uses language brokered between Jewish student leaders and the authors to target unethical corporations in more general terms without attacking Israel. However, during the open forum discussion prior to the vote, some students called for the one-page resolution to be amended to include specific countries and issues, the Daily Cardinal student newspaper reported.

In a statement issued after the vote, the university administration said the resolution is nonbinding and will not result in a change in university policies or its approach to investing.

Jewish students said an amendment added to the one-page resolution brought the resolution more in line with the proposal that failed a month ago. The amendment blames Israel for police violence against African-Americans, citing an exchange program in which senior American police officers travel to Israel to learn about counterterrorism, the pro-Israel organization StandWithUS said in a statement.

During debate on the resolution, anti-Israel activists called the Jewish community “oppressors” and said that Jewish students oppose divestment against Israel because it threatens their “white privilege.”

A Jewish member of the Associated Students of Madison was publicly targeted and harassed by other members of the student government during the meeting as well, according to the campus Hillel.

“The behavior of members of ASM to publicly target and harass the Jewish students and in particular the one Jewish student on ASM was reprehensible,” the university Hillel’s executive director, Greg Steinberger, said in a statement issued following the meeting. “We look forward to engaging the university and the state in a review of what happened tonight at the ASM meeting.”

In their statement, university administrators said, “We are concerned that the actions taken tonight appear to violate a ruling of the Student Judiciary; Jewish members of student government, who raised this issue with the Student Judiciary, walked out of the meeting after expressing concerns that the process was undemocratic and not transparent.

“UW-Madison values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities. We have heard clearly from the Jewish community how targeted they feel by the actions of the last month. Chancellor [Rebecca] Blank has made clear her opposition to the concept of BDS and academic boycotts.”

Israel Action Network, which monitored the campus events along with Chicago’s Jewish federation, said ASM leaders “acted in bad faith and manipulated the rules” to bring back the BDS resolution targeting Israel.

“Anti-Semitism has no place on college campuses, and students should not have to be made to choose between their progressive ideals and their Zionism. IAN, which was founded by Jewish Federations across North America, is committed to ensuring a safe environment for Jewish students on campus,” said Ethan Felson and Geri Palast, IAN executive directors, in a statement.

Matthew Modine, Ed Asner, actress Ruby Modine and Hilary Helstein, executive director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Photo Credit: James Franklin at RozWolfPR

Ed Asner honored for lifetime achievement at L.A. Jewish Film Festival [VIDEO]


Ed Asner, the 87-year-old Hollywood actor and liberal activist, was the center of attention last night during the opening gala of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF).

The event honored Asner — star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” and, more recently, “Elf” and “Up” — with the Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his “commitment to Jewish values and humanitarian causes.”

“I’m always pleased to show up somewhere where there’s popcorn,” Asner said in typical curmudgeonly fashion upon receiving the award, addressing a crowd assembled in the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.

His colleagues were more traditional in their praise. “There couldn’t be anyone in Los Angeles who is more deserving of this honor than my friend Ed Asner,” said actor Matthew Modine, who directed Asner in the 2016 short film, “Super Sex.” That 8-minute comedy screened last night along with the 2014 documentary, “My Friend Ed.”

A red carpet event kicked off the evening. Escorted by a small group of family and friends, Asner walked with a cane along the sidewalk of Wilshire Boulevard toward a group of eager photographers waiting in front of the theater to take the honoree’s picture. As reporters snapped photographs of Asner, a man in a car passing shouted, “Ed!”

The actor soaked it in, telling the Journal he was proud of being honored. Asked what Jewish historical figure he’d like to play onscreen one day, Asner said the late Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky or the late Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan.

 

A cocktail reception in the lobby of the theater followed the red carpet, which also drew actor Ed Begley Jr.; director Aaron Wolf,” whose documentary film “Restoring Tomorrow” spotlights the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; Ruby Modine, Matthew Modine’s daughter and co-star of the film, “Super Sex”; Shelley Fisher, who stars in the forthcoming theater show, “The Hebrew Hillbilly”; Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, widow of the late stage actor, Theodore Bikel; comedian Avi Liberman; veteran actress and Hollywood blacklist victim Marsha Hunt, and others.

“Ed is a treasure because he cares so deeply about bringing the past into the present and keeping the values he absorbed throughout his life,” Ginsburg Bikel told the Journal.

Everyone gathered inside the theater for the award presentation, which included comments from Hilary Helstein, LAJFF director; actress Sharon Gless; Zane Buzby, actress and founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project; director Sharon Baker; and Matthew Modine. Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz offered words of praise as well. The speakers emphasized Asner’s longevity in an industry where staying power is a rare thing, his unique commitment to standing up for the marginalized, and his warmth — underneath all that curmudgeonly-ness.

“That’s quite a grope,” Matthew Modine said as Asner posed for a photo with him, the latter’s hand invisible to the audience. “I’ve just had my prostate checked.”

“He doesn’t have long,” Asner quipped.

Buzby, who works with Holocaust survivors, described Asner as a “champion of compassion.”

A screening of “Super Sex” followed. The short film features Kevin Nealon and Elizabeth Perkins as grown-up siblings who buy a prostitute (Ruby Modine) as a birthday gift for their elderly father (Asner).

“My Friend Ed,” directed by Baker and produced by Asner’s daughter, Liza, features interviews with Asner, actor Paul Rudd, Begley Jr., Valerie Harper, his co-star on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and others. It offers a glimpse into Asner’s life and career and the inevitable ups-and-downs of working 50 years in show business.

The film examines how Asner’s sometimes unpopular political activism related to unrest in Latin America, the compensation of actors in the Screen Actors Guild and other issues during the Reagan era led to his being ostracized by some in the Hollywood community. The challenges peaked in 1982 when CBS canceled the award-winning show “Lou Grant,” an hour-long drama about journalism. In the film, Asner and others say the show had high ratings and the studio canceled the show because of Asner’s political views.

“I try to do good. I try to do effective work. It could be better,” Asner says in the film.

Asner’s views engendered a touch of controversy the night of the gala, when a lone woman protester stood outside the theatre wrapped in an Israeli flag to protest Asner’s views on Israel. The actor sits on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. However, in a statement released to the Jewish Journal earlier this week, Asner said he “does not support the BDS movement.”

The festival, a program of TRIBE Media Corp., the parent company of the Jewish Journal, continues until May 3.

Ed Asner. Photo from Wikipedia

Ed Asner: ‘I do not support BDS’


Legendary television actor Ed Asner made clear Tuesday morning that he no longer supports the movement to Boycott, Sanction and Divest from Israel, known as the BDS movement.

“I have a deep commitment to Jewish life, the Jewish people and the unity of the Jewish people worldwide,” Asner said in the statement, released through a publicist.  “I do not support BDS. I just want peace.”

The 87-year-old actor sought to clarify his position after a handful of critics took issue with his receiving an Award from the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Asner is set to receive the award at the Festival’s opening Wednesday evening. (The LAJFF is a program of TRIBE Media, which also publishes the Jewish Journal).

The BDS movement has been criticized by a broad segment of the Jewish community as being anti-Israel because it promotes the boycotting of all of Israel and not just the disputed territories.  Left of center groups like J Street and New Israel Fund have gone on record as being against BDS.

After Asner viewed information LAJFF provided him about BDS, he released the statement.

In an interview with the Jewish Journal’s Avishay Artsy earlier this month, Asner had already distanced himself from supporters of BDS.

Ahad Ha'am, c.1913

Would Ahad Ha’am be denied entry to Israel today?


While reading an interview in the Forward with the 87-year-old literary critic and polymath George Steiner, I couldn’t help but think about the string of troubling bills that have been passed by the Knesset over the past few years.

The most recent bill, from March 6, denies entry to any non-Israeli who “has knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott on the State of Israel.” It should be added that the bill includes those who call for a boycott of products produced in the settlements, which is a very different matter than calling for an academic, cultural or economic boycott of the State of Israel. A good number of prominent Israeli and Diaspora Jews support a settlement boycott, while a much more marginal group supports a boycott against Israel.

To the best of my knowledge, George Steiner has not called for a boycott of Israel. That said, he defines himself as “fundamentally anti-Zionist” in that he believes that Jews are called upon to be “the guest(s) of other men and women.” Given how things are going, I couldn’t help but wonder if the day might arrive soon when Jews deemed ideologically unacceptable — for example, self-declared anti-Zionists such as George Steiner — might be denied entry to Israel.

Steiner belongs to a long tradition of modern thinkers who have defined Jewishness as the quest for intellectual, cultural or ethical excellence, rather than as the aim to attain political sovereignty. Some of these thinkers have even been Zionists. Figures such as Martin Buber, Akiva Ernst Simon and Judah L. Magnes, founding chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, made aliyah based on the belief that Judaism would reach its greatest fulfillment in the Land of Israel. They also held to the view that Zionism should not aspire to the formation of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, but rather should share power with the Arab population in a binational state.

One wonders how welcome such figures would be in the Israel of today. The Knesset has been chiseling away at the edifice of Israeli democracy through a raft of laws. In July 2016, it scaled back the principle of parliamentary immunity by making it easier to expel Arab parliamentarians. In the same month, it passed a law that called for new scrutiny of organizations that support a range of progressive causes in the country. Just last month, the “Entry Bill” turned the focus on individuals who, because of their political views, would be denied entry to the country.

Of course, many countries have used ideological beliefs as a criterion to deny entry to prospective visitors. The United States has done so itself, particularly in periods of heightened xenophobic and anti-immigrant fervor, such as the 1920s and 1950s. It is not something to be proud of. More recently, the U.S. Congress limited the practice of ideologically based exclusion through the Immigration Law of 1990 that prohibits entry only to those whose “proposed activities within the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

That is a pretty high bar. It is hard to see how a single person expressing her views, even in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, would cause “serious adverse foreign policy consequences” for Israel. It is especially hard to see how Israel gains by denying entry to someone who expresses opposition to the occupation via a ban on settlement products, which he may believe to be essential in order to preserve Israeli democracy! Indeed, as a general matter, the Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

What also is unsettling about the law is that it cuts against the tradition of sharp dissent that has been a constant feature of both Jewish and Zionist thought. The Zionist movement was born in contentious and productive disagreement, from the very first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. It was at Basel that Theodor Herzl gave definitive public expression to the idea of a state for the Jews. It also was at Basel that another prominent Zionist, Ahad Ha’am, declared that he felt like “a mourner at a wedding feast.” Ahad Ha’am believed that Herzl’s emphasis on achieving sovereignty did not address the key problem of the day, which was the atrophying of Jewish and especially Hebrew culture. His solution was to promote a spiritual and cultural center in the land of Israel that would radiate out rays of vitality to the Diaspora. Ahad Ha’am was a central Zionist figure whose focus was on Jewish culture rather than power.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the divergence of views in various Zionist camps — Socialist, Religious, Revisionist, among others — was a source of strength, not weakness. This diversity allowed for different groups of supporters to enter the Zionist fold through various portals, as well as for a robust competition that fortified each ideological strain.

What has changed since that formative period? Simply put, Zionism has succeeded in placing a Jewish state on the map — and not merely a state, but a powerful, technologically advanced state without peer in the Middle East. It is strange to consider the prospect that this powerful state might no longer be open to the likes of Ahad Ha’am.


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

Gerald Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 2015. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Leader of anti-BDS group: Israel’s bill gives ammunition to its enemies


Despite the partisan sniping at this year’s AIPAC conference, one issue that garnered consensus among the lawmakers and lobbyists was the backing of bills targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

So it might have been jarring for some of the activists to be approached by an avuncular, kippah-clad fellow who lobbied against an anti-BDS bill — and even more jarring when they learned that their interlocutor was Gerald Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, which targets the very groups advancing BDS.

Steinberg’s target was not the AIPAC-backed congressional bills that punish businesses that boycott Israel and its settlements — the measure uses penalties in place since the 1970s on businesses that comply with the Arab League boycott. Nor was it the many state laws divesting pension funds from businesses that comply with BDS.

It was an Israeli bill, adopted last month by the Knesset, that bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. The measure has already scored a hit, keeping out a prominent British pro-BDS activist.

Steinberg argued that the bill accomplishes little — Israel, like every country, already has broad discretion about whom to let into its borders.

Instead, he said, critics of Israel are using the bill as evidence of the Jewish state’s anti-democratic tendencies. Steinberg added that liberal allies of Israel in studies associations, who are seeking to block anti-Israel resolutions, are being undermined.

“The visa law doesn’t do anything, but it alienates the allies we have for these fights,” he said.

It may seem odd to hear Steinberg extol liberal allies — he and NGO Monitor have had a contentious if not adversarial relationship at times with the liberal end of the Zionist spectrum, particularly the New Israel Fund. (NIF will not fund “global” BDS activities against Israel, but will support groups that targets goods and services from settlements.)

But he suggested those fights are among family. Steinberg looked horrified when he recalled how Jennifer Gorovitz, an NIF vice president, was detained and questioned by Israeli authorities for 90 minutes upon arriving in the country in February.

Steinberg said it’s time for liberal pro-Israel Americans and right-wing Israelis to come together in fighting BDS.

“It would be useful for American Diaspora groups, including Reform and progressive groups, not just to whack back at Israelis, but to take time to educate” about the best ways of combating BDS, he said.

(In an earlier interview, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said his movement was doing just that, and made clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their most recent meeting how critical it was to combat BDS to maintain support for the two-state solution. “Without a strong commitment on two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” said Jacobs.)

Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, tried to reach out to the Israeli sponsors of the bill, but his appeals have fallen mostly on deaf ears. He said the sponsors were thinking domestically and trying to show their backers they were tough with Israel’s enemies.

So last week, he worked the AIPAC halls. He wouldn’t say with whom he met, but Steinberg made it clear that he believed some of the biggest movers and shakers in the American Jewish community could persuade Israeli right-wing politicians to stand down from provocations.

“I don’t think anyone involved in this legislation had any idea it was going in this direction,” he said.

Columbia student council votes down adding BDS referendum


A student council at a Columbia University college voted not to add a question asking about support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to a student referendum.

The Columbia College council decided Monday that it would not include the resolution, which was proposed by the student group Apartheid Divest, to the ballot, according to The Columbia Spectator.

Critics of the resolution said its wording would divide students, especially using the term “apartheid,” to describe Israel. Proponents said it was not intended to change anyone’s opinion but rather that the results would provide information that could be used to encourage divestment from Israel, the Columbia Spectator reported.

Prior to the vote, council members heard presentations from various student groups, including Columbia University Apartheid Divest, Students Supporting Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Arkansas legislature passes law prohibiting deals with companies that boycott Israel


The Arkansas state legislature has passed a law that prohibits state agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel.

The law was sent to Arkansas State Gov. William Hutchinson on Friday for his signature.

The bill passed the state House of Representatives on its third reading on Wednesday by a vote of 69 to 3. It had passed the Senate earlier in the month by a vote of 29-0 with one abstention.

The bipartisan legislation to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement agaisnt Israel was sponsored by state Rep. Jim Dotson and state Sen. Bart Hester.

“Israel and Arkansas are great friends, and I thank the people of Arkansas for supporting this essential relationship, which is based on shared values,” said Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project, in a statement. “By passing this bill today, Arkansans are standing strong against discrimination, and are solidly on the right side of history.”

More than a dozen U.S. states have passed similar legislation.

Meet the Israelis Who Battle Bigotry and Ignorance


This is the 9th year of the “Between The Lines: Voices From Israel: Stories Untold” tour (formerly the “Israeli Soldiers Tour”.) This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.

 

This tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, brings 12 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students to thousands on North American campuses, high schools, churches (including Hispanic), synagogues, community events and through the media.

 

During the tour, they related their personal experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code, often in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians.  Their stories from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria have never been heard before.

 

StandWithUs “Between The Lines” tour puts a human face to the IDF uniform, thus trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.

 

Itay and Ilan (Last names are withheld for security purposes) have recently returned back home from their tour, and agreed to share their experiences, the good and the bad, with us.

 

Itay is studying political science and communications at Bar Ilan University. He served in the IDF for five years as a human resources officer. His most recent role was in the Medical Corps where he continues to serve in his reserve duty.

 

One of Itay’s roles was to coordinate the construction of a field hospital to treat those wounded in the Syrian conflict. In addition to his studies, Itay works for the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant spokesperson and social media manager. In 2015, he participated in the Israeli delegation to South Korea as a part of the “Intergovernmental Youth Exchange Program.”

 

Ilan extended his Israeli Soldiers tour by speaking to Latino groups in Miami, Florida and then, in Mexico.  Born in Venezuela, he moved to Israel in 2010.  Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education and life have always been an example of multiculturalism and coexistence.

 

Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT. During his service, Ilan worked with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the life of Palestinian families.

 

Itay spoke in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest together with Yuval.  Ilan, who is also Director of StandWithUs Espanol and Mark traveled the Southeast.  The reservists were met by inquisitive audiences and an array of questions about Israel and the IDF.  But, every year, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stage a protest and for the second time, the University of Georgia was the target.  Ilan and Mark persevered and The Atlanta Jewish Times was present.

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

 

Itay:

It’s important to know what the IDF is REALLY all about: people who are defending their country but at the same time willing to help and treat anybody who needs it –- even people we may consider to be our enemies or they may consider us to be their enemies. The students we address are not necessarily aware of this.

 

The medical corps constructed a field hospital to treat the wounded from the Syrian civil war on Israel’s northern border. Thousands of Syrians received medical care that no one else offered them but Israel. The same happened in 2014 near the Gaza strip, only there Hamas denied its own people access to the hospital and the medical care that was offered to them. They even targeted the hospital with projectiles.

 

It is also worth noting that the IDF provides humanitarian aid not only in Israel’s region, but in the entire world: Turkey, Japan, Philippines and Haiti are just recent examples from the last years where our medical forces combined with search and rescue teams were sent to help in disaster struck areas.

 

Ilan:

I think it’s very important for people to have an opportunity to meet an Israeli and hear the reality from someone who actually lives there.

 

As a Venezuelan, I always wondered what the people from Israel think about the situation. Now, I have the opportunity to share my story – my Israel story – with people in other countries.

 

We realized that pro-Israel students need to hear our experiences, to receive more accurate information, and to build a connection to Israel through them.

 

Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?

 

Ilan:

During this tour, I had the opportunity to read every kind of audience: Jewish and non-Jewish, students who have never heard about Israel in their lives, anti-Israel students, Christian leaders, community members, etc.

 

I think we have an important message to transmit to everyone, but I was especially excited to address people who were hearing about Israel for the first time in their lives.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Ilan:

In Georgia, we had an anti-Israeli protest. Approximately 20 students rejected dialogue after hearing my experiences of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. They were so blinded by their hatred of Israel, that they didn’t realized they were violating the memory of their own victims. When we asked them to respect human life and not throw pictures of victims on the floor, they started placing them on tables.

 

To them and every other protester I say: the only path to peace is if we meet and discuss. Groups who decide to take unilateral actions, obstruct justice and eliminate responsibility from one of the parties, are not contributing to peace but encouraging hate.

 

Itay:

Criticism is important for every organization, including the government and the military in order to minimize errors, form new rules, improve for future times and hold people accountable for their actions.

 

That being said, the actions of ‘Breaking the Silence’ suggest nothing of the sort. They are promoting a political agenda under anonymous testimonies which cannot be verified.  Even channel 10 television – which is very critical of the current government policy – investigation revealed that out of ten testimonies, only two were completely accurate. The others were impossible to verify, not true or overly exaggerated. Unfortunately, these testimonies are being used abroad for the sole purpose of smearing Israel and the IDF.

 

Add that to the fact that they are being funded by European countries and organizations with a similar agenda and with an expectation that their money will provide results – it is very hard not to question not only their actions and goals, but the content of their material.

 

I ask you to remember one of Winston Churchill’s finest quotes, “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home.”

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

 

Ilan:

For me Israel is an inspiration. It’s a country built by immigrants and minorities, built on the values of multiculturalism and coexistence….a country that helps others.

 

When I sought a way to transmit what I feel, I realized that sharing my daily dilemmas, the decisions and opportunities as an Israeli and especially an IDF soldier, was actually a good way to present Israel, the complexity of the Middle East and the incredible story of achievements of the Jewish people.

 

I think, people relate to Israel today because of its story of overcoming every single obstacle, and growing stronger every time. Our task is to create a connection between people’s every day obstacles, and Israel.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

 

Itay:

We were speaking in the Napa Valley, California.  During the Q&A, an 11-year-old wondered why we help those who have hurt us in the past, seek to hurt us today, hate us and view us as their enemies.

 

I explained that first and foremost, we are not fighting the people and we should separate them from their leadership. – even though they are taught to hate us. Why? Because we need to achieve the higher moral  ground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who hate or teach hatred, but they are NOT the majority in Israel.

 

The true nature of a society is not determined by its extremists, but by its majority. Unfortunately, that’s the difference right know between the Palestinian and Israeli societies. I hope that one day we’ll see a change within the Palestinian education system. It’s an important element towards achieving peace.

 

Second, to achieve that higher moral basis, our values cannot be empty slogans. While some of our neighbors glorify martyrdom and death,  we say we praise the value of life.  We should transform our beliefs into actions, otherwise they don’t mean anything. This is our message of hope for peace. Yes, you may have hurt us in the past, but we are willing to overcome it even though it still hurts.  Our hand is reaching out for a better future.

 

Ilan:

In Jacksonville, Florida, we shared our story in a school located in a dangerous area.  We talked about the second Intifada and how Israel dealt with violence, and asked the students if they knew or, were ever affected by violence?  Every one of them raised their hands. As sad as that was, we created a connection between them and Israel by how we – and they – overcame violence.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself?

 

Itay:

It is well known that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent despicable anti-Semitic attacks are not new to our people.

 

Anti-Semitism is almost as old as our religion exists. I cannot foresee the future, but I know that much has changed throughout the years:

 

For one, there wasn’t a Jewish state back then. There is a reason why our army was named “Israeli Defense Forces” – its purpose is to protect the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It’s important to understand that Israel is the home for every Jew around the world, even those who don’t live in Israel. It is a part of our responsibility because of the horrific past our people have endured.

 

That leads me to my second point which is: I believe most Israelis and Israel’s government condemn every act of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging our allies around the world to denounce it and act against it. The Jews in the Diaspora are not alone and will never stand alone. I was moved by the actions VP Mike Pence took when he visited one of the vandalized cemeteries and by British PM Theresa May’s statement about anti-Semitism. Fortunately, they are not the only world leaders who condemn these kinds of actions.

 

Anti-Semitism is an old disease, and similar to many others, it might not perish completely from this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight against it wherever we encounter it.

 

Ilan:

I think the ideas that generated the Holocaust are still around us, and the line between an idea and a reality is very thin.  StandWithUs believes that education is the path to peace. I think education is the only way to stop hatred from spreading worldwide.

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital


Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


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Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


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Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.


From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

ZOA endorses Israel’s anti-BDS law


The Zionist Organization of America endorsed a new Israel law that would ban entry to supporters of boycotting Israel or its settlements, setting it apart from an array of Jewish groups who oppose the law.

“The ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ (‘BDS’) movement against Israel is unjustified, discriminatory, harmful economic terrorism, powered by virulent Jew hatred,” the ZOA said Friday in a statement.

“Israel thus has every right to protect herself with this law, which bans entry of persons who are not Israeli citizens or permanent residents if they, or the organization in which they are active, knowingly issued a public call to boycott Israel or pledged to boycott Israel or areas controlled by Israel,” the group said.

The law, adopted Monday by the Knesset, bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. It has drawn mounting criticism from American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. First to condemn the law were an array of left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street and the New Israel Fund.

On Friday, the Association for Israel Studies condemned the law, saying it would turn Israel into an “isolated entity open only to those who ascribe to official policy.”

The Trump administration has said that border crossings are a sovereign matter, but added that it favors free expression.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting. March 5. Photo by Abir Sultan/REUTERS.

AJC joins US Jewish groups criticizing Israel’s anti-BDS entry law


The American Jewish Committee said it was “troubled” by a new Israeli law banning entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

The AJC’s statement, released a day after the law’s passage, was the first signal from the American Jewish establishment that it was unhappy with the law. An array of American groups on the left — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, the New Israel Fund, and T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group — condemned the law as soon as it passed.

“Every nation, of course, is entitled to regulate who can enter, and AJC, a longtime, staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” AJC CEO David Harris, said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is, or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel,” Harris said.

According to the final wording of the boycott bill, the ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge limiting boycotts to areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

Backers of the bill say it would be used only against those active in organizations that support BDS, and would not block an individual for something she or he might once have said.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spent more than 15 years in pro-Israel work, says she has seen evangelicals rallying to the cause. Photo courtesy of Cardoza-Moore

Evangelicals are ready to speak for Israel in Trump’s Washington


Evangelicals, who have been advocating for Israel for years, have historically let the Jews take the lead.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, for one, is excited that they are poised to take on a prominent role. An evangelical TV host and activist, Cardoza-Moore backs President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement who is deeply skeptical of the two-state solution.

And she is confident Trump will make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I am excited to see this development. It further illustrates the commitment of this [incoming] administration,” she recently told a Christian news service. “And God willing, Friedman will be the one who helps orchestrate that transition.”

Cardoza-Moore was in Israel last week filming a new episode of “Focus on Israel,” which is widely syndicated on Christian television. In an interview at a Tel Aviv café last week, she said in over 15 years of pro-Israel work as the president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, she has seen evangelicals rally to the cause.

“After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of Christians were ready to hear our message,” she said. “Having read the Bible, they felt we were under a curse and the way to change that curse was to make sure we supported Israel. I always knew if we could get the information to the Christians, they would respond and they would stand up.”

But while that support is undeniable and certainly welcomed by a Jewish state that could use all the friends it can get, it still discomfits many in the pro-Israel camp, especially liberals. They worry evangelicals’ Bible-based views are too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs.

“There’s a real danger because most evangelicals are very hawkish and hard-line on Israel,” said Dov Waxman, a political scientist at Northeastern University who studies American Jews and Israel. “The more they get involved, that risks alienating more liberal Jews from pro-Israel advocacy and from Israel.”

Cardoza-Moore’s commitment to Israel is unquestioned, and often indistinguishable from what mainstream Jewish groups might take on. In 2013, she gained national attention with a campaign against a geography textbook being used in her Tennessee school district that asked students to consider whether a Palestinian suicide bomber who kills “several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant” is acting as a terrorist or as a soldier fighting a war.

Cardoza-Moore spoke at school board meetings, gathered hundreds of signatures and appeared on Fox News to advocate against using the book. The local Jewish federation took her side. In the end, the school board concluded the book was not biased, but the publisher removed the offending line from electronic and future print editions.

Perhaps Cardoza-Moore’s biggest victory came in 2015, when at her urging, the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, the first of its kind in the nation. Although the resolution took no action against BDS, it labeled the movement “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

Since then, Cardoza-Moore has pushed for similar resolutions in other states. Ten states have now passed them, and three more are considering doing so. Governors in 15 states have signed laws that prevent the boycott of Israel.

It likely helps that the Republican Party in recent years has been dominant in state politics. The GOP has increasingly become the pro-Israel party. Evangelicals, who make up more than a quarter of the American population and overwhelmingly vote Republican, have shaped the party’s identity on Israel in many ways.

“If we look at why the Republicans tend to take pro-Israel positions, I think a major reason for that is evangelical Christians,” Waxman said. “In red-state America, it’s the views of evangelicals that really matter when it comes to Israel.”

And with Trump’s victory, red-state America is in control of the executive branch. Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, has been ramping up its activities in Washington, D.C. The Israel lobby claims 3.3 million mostly evangelical members. By contrast, the mostly Jewish AIPAC has approximately 100,000, though it is more experienced and better funded.

After long deferring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, CUFI founder and board member David Brog said his group planned to get “a little more aggressive” in pushing its policies in the Trump era, when it has clout and connections, including to evangelical Vice President Mike Pence.

“At a time when we have a Republican in the White House and Republicans control the House and Senate, we see CUFI as able to play a leading role in speaking to governing majorities that know they owe their election in large part to our base,” he said.

Brog described CUFI as “within the mainstream” and respectful of AIPAC’s history of bipartisanship. But he acknowledged that CUFI’s members tend to be “right of center” and “skeptical of the two-state solution.” The group, he said, would not necessarily sit out debates or avoid criticizing ideological opponents in an effort to keep them in the pro-Israel camp.

“We need to draw clear lines and be clear about where we stand,” he said. “That does not necessarily damage bipartisanship. Drawing clear lines may help define what it means to be pro-Israel.”

As Bloomberg’s Eli Lake pointed out, CUFI has not taken a position on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which AIPAC officially supports, and has backed legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority, which AIPAC has not. CUFI has also thrown its weight behind Trump’s pro-settlement pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Some Jewish observers have suggested that growing evangelical involvement in Israel advocacy could turn Israel into a right-wing Republican issue. Aside from concerns about the implications for Israel, they say, that could make it less attractive to more liberal Jews, who already are drifting away from the community and are increasingly critical of Israel’s policies.

“It’s like a brand. If Israel is associated with right wing and ‘reactionary’ forces, then it’s going to be a turnoff to younger American Jews,” Waxman said. “It may be superficial, but we’re talking about public perceptions.”

Brog, who is Jewish, argued Israel and its supporters could not afford to apply a “religious test” on the issue.

“I got involved in Christian advocacy because I can count,” he said. “If the pro-Israel community is limited to the Jewish community, it’s too small. The reason the American government is pro-Israel is because the American people are profoundly and overwhelmingly pro-Israel. But we can’t take that for granted.”

A senior official at a dovish Israel advocacy group said he thought American Jews and Israel would ultimately define their own relationship, regardless of who else was in the picture.

“I’d be foolish to say evangelical Christians don’t have an effect. But I don’t really care what they say,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “At the end of the day, it’s a homeland for the Jewish people. So it’s how we choose to express our love for Israel that really matters.”

Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks after a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 2, 2016. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL players flap upends Israel’s PR game plan


Almost 30 years ago, the late theater impresario Joe Papp got into hot water when he canceled a scheduled production of a pro-Palestinian play at his flagship Manhattan theater, the Public.

Rumors flew at the time that he caved in to pressure from wealthy Jewish donors, but Papp — born Joseph Papirofsky but muted in his Jewish identity most of his life — had a more personal explanation: “Having so recently reasserted his Jewishness but having never presented an Israeli or Palestinian play,” a JTA article explained, “he didn’t want his first statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be seen as pro-Palestinian.”

Papp’s decision was seen at the time as a small victory by the pro-Israel camp, an insult to the Arab community — and an embarrassment by champions of artistic freedom. But at a news conference where Papp explained his decision, I heard something else: a curious citizen of the world who didn’t want to enlist in anybody’s propaganda war.

I remembered the Papp incident when I read that Seattle Seahawks defender Michael Bennett and some other NFL players were backing out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government and America’s Voices in Israel, an initiative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Bennett apparently pulled out after reading an article about the trip in The Times of Israel, which included official statements by two Israeli Cabinet ministers saying the trip was intended to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the pro-Palestinian narrative about Israel.

Gilad Erdan, whose varied portfolio includes public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy, said he hoped the visit would offer the players “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.” Fighting BDS, he said, “includes hosting influencers and opinion-formers of international standing in different fields, including sport.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin hoped the players would come home with “positive stories about Israel” that would “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state.”

On Feb. 8, Bennett tweeted that he was not going to Israel, complaining that “I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner.”

He pledged to come to Israel one day, and to visit the West Bank and Gaza, “so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

It’s not clear how much the players knew about the sponsors or the purposes of the trip before accepting. The America’s Voices in Israel Facebook page explains that it “organizes week-long missions to Israel for prominent headline-makers with widespread credibility,” in order to generate stories about Israel that “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish State.” Accounts of the trips show an itinerary heavy on holy and historical sites, fine dining and visits to Israel’s highly regarded human services sector, like a program for people with special needs. The trips are often led by Voices’ director, a rabbi with a background in right-leaning efforts promoting Israel.

Still, my guess is the players didn’t know much about the organizers. Nor did they appreciate the politically charged nature of visiting the region. Every country has a tourism board that tries to entice celebrities with free trips and deluxe accommodations. In recent years, the Golden Globes swag bag has included round-trip tickets to Fiji and a free stay at a five-star resort.

The difference is that Fiji is not a global hot spot, and if anyone is boycotting Fiji it has more to do with a bad Yelp review than an organized political campaign. The BDS movement is intent on demonizing Israel and shaming celebrities who don’t revile the country or are open to hearing both sides of the story.

The day before Bennett announced he wasn’t going, the Nation published an “Open Letter to NFL Players Traveling to Israel on a Trip Organized by Netanyahu’s Government.” Signed by Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and others, it is a model in the effort to de-normalize Israel. Quoting Erdan, they assert that the trip was “designed explicitly to improve Israel’s image abroad to counter worldwide outrage over its massacres and war crimes.” Addressing African-Americans like Bennett, it links the Palestinian cause to that of “black and brown communities in the United States.”

And their complaint is not just about the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, but a Jewish nation-state “with more than 50 laws that privilege Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens.” One of its strangest passages compares Trump’s travel ban on refugees with Israeli restrictions on migrants trying to enter the country illegally from its tense border with Egypt. (Needless to say, the letter does not address why these “asylum seekers” from Sudan and Eritrea see Israel as a more desirable destination than the countries they are fleeing and the Muslim-majority countries they must pass through to get there.)

Like the Israelis, the BDS groups who signed the letter also employ celebrities in the battle of hearts and minds — citing musicians like Lauryn Hill and Roger Waters who have refused to play in Israel. The question for Israel is whether it should fight fire with fire — celebrity with celebrity — in waging public diplomacy.

The good news for Israel is that its opponents often overplay their hand. BDS is not a “peace movement” in the sense that it wants two viable, secure states for Israelis and Palestinians. The letter to NFL players says BDS will target Israel until it “complies with international law and guarantees Palestinian rights” — an intentionally unspecific formula that coupled with the activists’ refusal to talk about a two-state solution or the Jews’ right to a state of their own suggests their ultimate goal is a single binational state.

Perhaps Bennett and the other no-show players caved to the BDS side, although the NFL story is playing in Israel as a fumble on the part of Erdan and Levin. By making explicit the implicit purpose of the “mission,” they put the players in an untenable position. Israel is understandably eager to seize on signs of normalcy in the face of the BDS assault. But sometimes discretion is the better part of hasbara. In recent years Israel has pushed the “Brand Israel” tactic of public diplomacy, backing efforts to promote Israel’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, science and gay rights. When the government’s fingerprints are obvious, such events have inspired protests at film festivals, museums and theaters.

Maybe the problem is contained in the word “mission,” borrowed by Jews from Christian evangelists and suggesting a trip meant to win converts. Perhaps a better model for these kinds of trips is a symposium or a fact-finding trip, exposing visitors not just to what makes Israel fun and inspiring, but to its challenges in all their complexity. If celebs knew they were going to get a range of perspectives on the country and the conflict, perhaps they’d feel more confident in telling the BDS crowd to back off.

To Bennett’s credit, he signals that he has an open mind, and that when he does visit, he’ll hear from both sides. If he does, he’ll experience an Israeli and Palestinian reality infinitely more complex — more multicultural, more historically aware, less reductive — than the patronizingly binary picture scrawled by the authors of the open letter. And he just might discover that Israel has the more convincing story to tell.

The University of California, Riverside. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

UC Riverside student government votes to remove Sabra hummus from dining service


The student government at the University of California, Riverside, unanimously voted to approve a resolution calling for the removal of Sabra brand hummus from campus dining services.

The resolution passed last week in a 13-0 vote with one abstention. The resolution is not enforceable, and the UC Riverside administration says it has no plans to remove the hummus.

The removal was requested because the Sabra company’s joint owner is the Israel-based Strauss Group, which allegedly supports the Israeli military. The campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine backed the resolution.

“Sabra Dipping Company is owned by two independent global food companies — PepsiCo, based in the U.S., and Strauss Group, which is headquartered in Israel,” Sabra spokeswoman Ilya Welfeld said in a statement issued to the local NBC affiliate.

“Each company is a separate entity and independent company,” she said, adding that Sabra has “no political positions or affiliations.”

In 2015, the campus dining service removed Sabra hummus after being approached by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on campus. Tapaz2Go hummus, from Mediterranean Snacks, briefly replaced Sabra, but Sabra hummus was restored after the university realized that a political position was an underlying political position for its removal.

In March 2014, the school’s student government passed a resolution urging administrators to divest from Israel, but rescinded it the following month.

DePaul University briefly stopped offering Sabra hummus in 2011 before reinstating it, and a year earlier, students at Princeton University voted on the issue. In neither case was Sabra hummus permanently removed from the campus dining facilities.

Senators introduce bipartisan anti-BDS bill


Two senators introduced a bill to protect to state and local governments passing anti-BDS legislation from lawsuits.

On Tuesday, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced the Combating BDS Act, which would increase legal protection for state and local governments that ban, limit or divest from companies “engaged in commerce-related or investment-related BDS activity targeting Israel.”

Under the measure, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activity includes boycotting or limiting business with those in Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The bill is an updated version of a measure introduced in February by Manchin and Mark Kirk, a Republican senator from Illinois who was defeated in November.

Among the bill’s 17 co-sponsors are Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.

Manchin praised the bill as a way to protect American and Israeli security and economic priorities in a statement announcing the bill.

“This legislation is an important step forward in reassuring Israel that we are protecting our shared national security interests, while also protecting our joint economic interests,” Manchin said.

Rubio in a statement alluded to the recent passage of a resolution condemning Israeli settlements by the United Nations Security Council that he termed “a deplorable one-sided measure that harms Israel and effectively encourages the BDS movement’s campaigns to commercially and financially target and discriminate against the Jewish state.”

Senate bill to protect states countering BDS


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) will introduce a bill today to combat the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement by strengthening protection for state and local governments who divest from companies participating in investment-related BDS actions against Israel.

“This legislation supports efforts by state governments and local communities to use the power of the purse to counter the BDS movement’s economic warfare targeting Israel,” Rubio said in a press statement.

The Combatting BDS Act, Sen. Resolution 170, is a bi-partisan effort that updates a similar bill introduced in the previous Congressional session by former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Manchin, but failed to pass. The original measure was co-sponsored by 19 lawmakers including Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tom Cotton (R-AK).

“This legislation is an important step forward in reassuring Israel that we are protecting our shared national security interests, while also protecting our joint economic interests,” Manchin explained.

The bill clarifies that local and state governments have the legal right to prohibit investment with companies engaging in BDS activity based on “credible information available to the public” and provides offensive measures against commercial organizations aiming to financially attack Israel.

As BDS resolutions stall, pro-Palestinian students shift tactics


When Northwestern University’s student Senate passed a resolution in February 2015 asking the university to divest from six corporations they said contributed to the violation of Palestinians’ human rights, freshman Ross Krasner was hurt and surprised.

The rhetoric of the measure, portraying Israel as an oppressor, was more extreme than what he had expected. Krasner decided to become more involved with the campus pro-Israel group, Wildcats for Israel, and became its president that May.

A year and a half later, he feels confident the university won’t heed the resolution’s divestment call, and Krasner has shifted his extracurricular focus on campus — serving as a student senator, a forum where he can advocate for a range of causes he supports, including but not limited to Israel.

“We knew the whole time the university wasn’t going to divest,” said Krasner, now a junior. “Because it passed, it’s never going to be brought up again.” Anti-Israel activists, he said, have “lost their rallying cry. They’ve lost their thing to mobilize around.”

The vote by Northwestern’s Associated Student Government Senate was one of three huge campus victories scored by the BDS movement — which aims to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — within two weeks in February 2015. It was preceded by similar votes in the University of California Student Association, representing all U.C. students across the state, and in Stanford University’s Undergraduate Senate.

But nearly two years after the BDS three-peat, the wave seems to have receded. Of about a dozen BDS resolutions passed since November 2015, only two or three have come at major universities. A BDS resolution at the University of Michigan failed three weeks ago.

Perhaps most significant, not one university has actually divested from Israel or companies targeted for doing business in the West Bank. After its College Council passed a divestment resolution in April, the University of Chicago released a statement saying an Israel boycott “would only diminish the University’s distinctive contribution.”

Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut told JTA that the organization has reached out personally to university presidents to lobby them against BDS and has found open ears.

“We have been in touch with university leaders, trustees and administrators to help them oppose, to help them understand why any kind of academic boycott or divestment would be the wrong thing to do,” he said. “They’ve all agreed with that position.”

Kenneth Waltzer, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, a 350-member group of university faculty who oppose BDS, said divestment is a nonstarter for many university boards of trustees because it would violate their commitment to invest funds in a way that would best serve the school. There is not enough consensus on divestment, he said, for it to override concerns of fiduciary responsibility.

“University presidents are responsible,” said Waltzer, an emeritus history professor at Michigan State University. “Students can get as excited as they want for a particular issue. They don’t have a responsibility for where it goes. Do we want to cut off all our ties with Israel? It’s a much more complicated issue.”

National pro-Israel groups have invested millions of dollars in fighting BDS since 2010. In June 2015, Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, Jewish philanthropist and Republican megadonor, raised a reported $20 million at a summit launching a new group to fight BDS on campus. That same month, the Israeli government pledged some $25 million in anti-BDS funding over 10 years. In soliciting the money, leaders of national organizations portrayed BDS movements as the central threat to Israel on campus.

Pro-Israel groups now believe the threat has shifted as BDS has failed to make concrete gains in terms of divestment. They say that anti-Israel groups have pivoted from pushing divestment resolutions to protesting, and in some cases disrupting, pro-Israel events and speakers on campus.

But Ben Lorber, campus coordinator for the pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace, said divestment resolutions and protests at events serve the same purpose: sparking conversation about Palestinian rights. He predicted that BDS resolutions would re-emerge next semester with the approach of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab states, as a result of which the West Bank came under Israeli control.

“The larger goal is to educate the community as a whole,” Lorber said. “Divestment is so effective because it gets the whole campus talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and looking into these issues. Students are continuing to exercise their free-speech rights to protest injustice on campus and in the world around them.”

Wendel Rubinstein, a 2016 University of Chicago graduate who campaigned for divestment, said that BDS activism may have scaled back as students — especially following the election of Donald Trump — are refocusing their efforts on demonstrating on behalf of immigrants and vulnerable minorities.

“I think what students have been focused on this year, especially in light of the election results, is building coalitions and solidarity,” Rubinstein said. “There’s not an actual campaign to push a specific initiative right now” on pressuring the university to divest from Israel.

Last month, more than a year and a half after its student divestment vote, Northwestern announced the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility. The committee will advise the university on how to vote at shareholder meetings, and will include four student representatives among its 10 voting members.

Krasner is concerned that anti-Israel students will be appointed to the committee, but still isn’t worried that his school will divest from Israel. More troubling to him is the marginalizing of pro-Israel students in campus social justice movements — something he has experienced.

Last year, when students at the University of Missouri were protesting issues of racial injustice on their campus, Krasner co-wrote a resolution supporting the protests as a Northwestern student senator. But he was pressured to withdraw his name from the resolution, he said, after a senator supporting the campus African-American student group, as well as the campus Students for Justice in Palestine, objected to his pro-Israel activism.

Krasner called the incident “a very hurtful thing that happened to me.”

“I’m constantly learning about what it means to be an ally to marginalized communities,” he said. “As someone who says, ‘No, I don’t support BDS,’ it’s a challenge I wasn’t prepared for coming in.”

Roger Waters takes stage at UCLA before controversial film screening


Roger Waters, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, had been scheduled to answer questions after last week’s screening of the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” at UCLA. The subject of the film, which he narrated, is media manipulation by pro-Israel forces — a topic on which the rock star has been outspoken.

Instead, Waters limited himself to a few short remarks before the film was shown. Members of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which sponsored the Nov. 30 screening at the James Bridges Theater, said they had gotten wind of protests planned to disrupt his appearance.

“To get this movie shown at all is a monumental struggle. … They don’t want you to see it,” said Waters, a frequent critic of Israel. “Nobody wants you to see this film.”

After his brief remarks, Waters slipped out of the theater through a side door and the opening credits rolled. Yet, disruptions largely failed to materialize, despite fliers calling for a protest that were posted on Facebook by an anonymous group calling itself the Yad Yamin, Hebrew for “the right hand.” 

Signs outside the event warned that disruptions would not be tolerated, and student speakers implored audience members to stay respectfully quiet — which, for the most part, they did.

The film asserts that Israel benefits from “the most successful public relations campaign in U.S. history,” said Sut Jhally, the film’s executive producer and a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who spoke with the Journal before attending the showing.

Jhally said he conceived of the UCLA screening as an “act of solidarity” after he heard that a group led by right-wing activist David Horowitz in May had hung posters around the university’s campus, naming and shaming students and faculty involved in pro-Palestinian activism. 

Jhally said he phoned a friend, history professor Robin Kelley — a UCLA faculty member named on the posters — and arranged for the screening, one week after the film opened in Brussels.

“This is kind of ground zero for attacks on Palestinian activists,” Jhally said of UCLA.

In the film, journalists, academics and pro-Palestinian advocates suggest Israel was founded on the dispossession of Arabs from their land, that the country benefits from a top-down propaganda campaign, and that Hamas — the Palestinian Islamic political party that governs the Gaza Strip — is not a terrorist organization. The documentary names pro-Israel groups such as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, The David Project and The Israel Project as agents of a media spin machine.

At various points, scenes of Israeli security forces manhandling Palestinian Arabs are shown as eerie background music plays.

A few audience members clapped awkwardly when pro-Israel video clips screened — although for the purpose of setting up the filmmakers’ rebuttals (before the screening, this reporter heard Hebrew conversation coming from that section of the audience). But otherwise, protests largely failed to take place.

“Someone, we aren’t sure who, had tipped off the police in an effort to stop it,” a person professing to be a Yad Yamin organizer wrote in an email to the Journal on Dec. 1, the day after the screening. The writer declined to provide a name (and claimed not to be a UCLA student), saying the group adheres to a “policy of anonymity.”

“With police having been informed, many got cold feet,” the email writer said. “There was no support for [the protest] from Jewish student groups on campus and sadly galvanizing young Jews to do so seems to be a tall order.”

However, he added, “We are viewing this as a victory after all if it stopped Roger Waters from partaking in the Q-and-A.”

In a Dec. 1 email, Yacoub Kureh, UCLA board chair of SJP, wrote that it was unclear to the organizers why Waters left early.

Before the event, a group of pro-Israel student organizations, including Bruins for Israel (BFI), agreed not to protest the screening to avoid another contentious incident in an already tense campus climate, BFI President Arielle Mokhtarzadeh said at the screening. Any protest, she said, would come from non-students or students unaffiliated with the organized Jewish community.

But in an op-ed published the day after the screening in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, a group of some of the same pro-Israel organizations expressed disapproval of the film.

“The film is an intellectualization of the centuries-old, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a group of powerful, manipulative and domination-obsessed Jews have gained control of politics and media through a combination of wealth, power, influence and deceit,” they wrote in a statement signed by BFI, Students Supporting Israel, the Bruin-Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel at UCLA.

“Our disappointment, however, is directed not only toward the creators of this film, but at the students who have pushed to screen it,” the op-ed continued. “In doing so, they have provided a platform for the legitimization of identity-based hatred.”

After the screening, Jhally took Waters’ place in an onstage Q-and-A session. But questions were posed via Twitter and written on scraps of paper, forestalling pointed questions or arguments from the audience.

Kureh, the moderator, chose a number of critical questions, including one from Mokhtarzadeh, the BFI president. But some presumably pro-Israel audience members were unsatisfied.

“Why not have an open Q-and-A?” a person yelled from the back half of the room, prompting some of the event’s student organizers to begin moving toward that part of the theater.

“This is not a forum for truth!” another shouted.

The organizers converged on the outspoken audience members, but after a moment of heated conversation the audience members were allowed to stay.

Indian-American student becomes pro-Israel symbol for trying to stay neutral


When Milan Chatterjee arrived at UCLA’s law school in 2014, Middle East politics wasn’t one of his core interests. He describes himself as an Indian American interested in corporate law who has strong connections to his South Asian and Hindu heritage. He has played the Indian tabla drums on multiple recordings with prominent Indian musicians.

But now Chatterjee, who was the Graduate Student Association president at UCLA, has chosen to leave the school before completing his degree in the wake of a nearly yearlong battle with activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

After stipulating that a diversity event would receive no funding if its organizers had any connection to the BDS movement, Chatterjee claims that he was harassed by the activists and that UCLA administrators mishandled an investigation into his alleged policy infractions.

“The administration is working in collusion with BDS activists,” Chatterjee told JTA. “I really feel bad for the Jewish student body. These are some of the nicest, most cultured, most hardworking people I’ve ever met. They come to school to enhance themselves academically and enhance the diversity of the campus. But they’re regularly targeted and bullied by the BDS movement.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of the Hillel at UCLA, said the BDS controversy has not affected the average Jewish Bruin.

“There are far too many incidents, but BDS does not affect the daily lives of our Jewish students,” Lerner said, referring to other recent public altercations at UCLA, such as the one involving Rachel Beyda, who was asked about her Jewish heritage at a student government meeting in 2015. “Students are motivated to get involved, both to fight BDS and even more so to take back their student governments.”

Nevertheless, Chatterjee's public critique of the school has made him a symbol of anti-BDS resistance to pro-Israel alumni and activists. In the past week, over 500 alumni have signed a Change.org petition calling for UCLA to issue a public apology to Chatterjee and rescind its Discrimination Prevention Office report, which concluded that Chatterjee violated the school’s viewpoint neutrality policies.

Some donors have even threatened to stop giving to the school. David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial adviser, has considered taking back an art collection he donated to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Helen Jacobs-Lepor, a vice president of a large biomedical device company, wrote in a letter published on a Facebook page called UCLA Bruins Supporting Milan Chatterjee that she has taken UCLA out of her will.

“I am appalled as to how you treated Milan Chatterjee and your failure to protect him from the vicious actions of the BDS movement,” Jacobs-Lepor wrote.

And in June, the American Jewish Committee gave Chatterjee its inaugural Campus Courage Award for demonstrating “unusual courage and moral clarity in standing up to anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.” Peter Weil, a prominent real estate lawyer and former president of the AJC’s Los Angeles chapter, has given him pro bono legal help.

The issue even made its way onto the desk of U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a staunchly pro-Israel House member who represents the San Fernando Valley district in Los Angeles County. He has corresponded with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, but Sherman is still researching the situation and is not ready to issue a full statement. (Both Sherman and Block are Jewish.)

Sherman told JTA that he is concerned about Chatterjee's claims of harassment and the way the university's report was leaked online.

“I don’t think [UCLA] is a hostile environment for Jews. The question is, is it a hostile environment for Zionist students?” Sherman asked. “To think that you go from being elected graduate student body president to fleeing the university, that is an enormous change in one’s feelings. I would hope that we would make sure that other students don’t feel that.”

It has all been a wild, unexpected ride for Chatterjee, a 27-year-old Las Vegas resident who said he was merely trying to stay completely neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

“For two years … I never had any problems, we worked peacefully with student groups,” he said. “[BDS activists] made a Mount Everest out of a mole hill.”

The ordeal began last October when a campus group called the Diversity Caucus reached out to the graduate student government to ask Chatterjee for funding for a panel event. Chatterjee initially agreed to hold a GSA vote on whether to provide $2,000 for the event, but sent a subsequent email to the Diversity Caucus stipulating that the group could not receive the funding if it engaged with any groups that supported divestment from Israel. He argued that funding Students for Justice in Palestine, a national anti-Zionist group with chapters on many college campuses, would imply taking a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He also said it would have made some members of the student government uncomfortable.

Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA was allowed to have a table outside the event, but the panel discussion itself avoided talk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pro-Palestinian group complained to the campus administration, which launched an investigation that concluded that Chatterjee broke the school's viewpoint neutrality rules, regardless of his intentions.

In a statement to JTA, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA called Chatterjee’s actions “a direct effort to bar the ability of an organization to associate with or engage in speech about a particular viewpoint.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal sent a letter to the UCLA administration following the original incident, saying that requiring that GSA-funded programs have “zero connection” to BDS supporters violates students' First Amendment rights.

Chatterjee, who is finishing his last year of law school at New York University, alleges that UCLA’s viewpoint neutrality rules were never explained to students — a fact the UCLA report acknowledges — and the school evaluated his actions under a University of California policy titled PACAOS 86.30 that UCLA never formally adopted. He wants UCLA to rescind the report and clear his record.

“This isn’t about free speech or free expression,” Weil said. “He’s not saying that people shouldn’t be entitled to criticize Israel or to defend Israel. His objection is how the university scapegoated him. When he applies to a bar exam, the bar is going to say ‘have you ever been investigated,’ and he’s going to have to explain it.”

Furthermore, Chatterjee claims that UCLA allowed BDS activists to leak the confidential report online. Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, who headed the report, also wrote about the report on his blog and linked to it.

Chatterjee says pro-BDS students also launched a “smear campaign” that attempted to have him removed as graduate student president three separate times. He blames BDS activists for what he calls “defamatory” articles about him in the student paper and on anti-Zionist websites such as Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada. Toward the end of his term, several months after the diversity event, the student government voted to censure him. At one government meeting, Chatterjee says a student declared a “holy war” on him.

In response to an inquiry about the report’s confidentiality, Ricardo Vasquez, UCLA’s associate director of media relations, said the school was legally obligated to provide it to the Los Angeles Times in response to a public records request.

Both Block and Kang declined to respond to JTA’s inquiries. However, Block issued a statement to UCLA stakeholders and other members of the public last week saying that UCLA “does not support divestment from Israel.”

“I personally am extremely proud of our numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions. We have a thriving and vibrant Jewish community at UCLA, and I know from engaging with many of its members that they truly believe that UCLA is a welcoming and nurturing community for their beliefs. That it remains so is non-negotiable,” he wrote. “We will not tolerate anti-Semitism or discrimination against any member of our community. We will not allow groups or individuals to harass others, whether based on beliefs, opinions or speech.”

Weil said that Chatterjee's case should make college administrations formalize the way they handle complaints from the BDS movement.

“The fact is that none of these administrators are trained in how to deal with this stuff. This is new stuff,” Weil said. “BDS is a very sophisticated group … but now you have to figure out how to deal with it.”

California needs anti-BDS bill to fight discrimination


Introduced in response to the “BDS Movement,” a growing international campaign of intolerance and bigotry operating under the guise of human rights advocacy, AB 2844 is an important and needed law that will help to protect many Californians from discrimination. AB 2844 would, in essence, prohibit the state from contracting with entities that engage in discriminatory activity, including, but not limited to, discriminatory activity targeting Jews and those of Israeli origin.

[OPPOSITION: Gov. Brown should veto flawed BDS law]

Many other states have adopted similar laws and with the thoughtful revisions to AB 2844 that were made through the legislative process, there is no question that AB 2844 passes constitutional muster while also protecting a minority group in California that is under concerted attack.

I have written extensively on the BDS Movement generally and the constitutionality of restrictions on BDS Movement activity in the United States specifically.  My most recent paper, “The Inapplicability of First Amendment Protections to BDS Movement Boycotts” was published in the Cardozo Law Review de novo and is available here.  This paper demonstrates the constitutionality of AB 2844, especially with regard to First Amendment concerns.

Some of those who oppose anti-BDS laws, and AB 2844 in particular, have argued that BDS activity is subject to the same type of constitutional protections that civil rights boycotts enjoy.  Indeed, the initial legal analysis prepared by the legislature for AB 2844 contained this deeply flawed position. However, after a number of constitutional scholars, including my legal foundation, informed the state of its erroneous legal conclusion, the record was corrected and the legislature resumed consideration of AB 2844.

As a legal matter, there is no question that AB 2844 is a common sense, reasonable and permissible state action to combat discrimination, no different from other actions against discriminatory conduct, such as bans on state and local employee travel to states with anti-LGBTQ policies.  As a policy matter, there is great urgency in having the State of California take a stand against the increasingly hateful targeting of Jews and Californians of Israeli-descent, and their businesses. 

While those who support the BDS Movement claim that it is a rights movement, the truth is that it is nothing more than a revival of the old Arab League boycott against Israel, reinvigorated with a savvy public relations arm and backed by designated terror organizations and sponsors of international hate.  The BDS Movement came to life at the behest of, among other state actors, Iran, in a conference that former California Congressman Tom Lantos described as “an anti-American, anti-Israel circus…a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence as a haven for Jews.” 

BDS Movement activity has, as its ultimate goal, the elimination of the modern State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of Jews worldwide from their historic homeland.  In recent testimony before Congress, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer identified ties between supporters of designated terror groups, such as Hamas, and key supporters of the BDS Movement. 

BDS Movement activities in California have a particularly important impact on me.  My mother was born in a small village in what was then known as Czechoslovakia in 1933.  Her family was persecuted by an organized group that sought to demonize and disenfranchise Jewish residents under the guise of protecting the rights of others.  While many Czechs thought that the incremental vilification and targeting of their Jewish neighbors was a passing occurrence or one that would not concern them, when the Nazis invaded and began rounding up Jews it was too late to take action.  My mother was taken from her home by SS agents and while everyone in her family other than her (and her mother and father) were slaughtered in extermination camps, through a stroke of luck my mother was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1942.  The fate of those in my father’s family who remained in the Ukraine had no such luck, as a frenzied population, driven my anti-Jewish agitprop, worked with the Nazis to eradicate Jews from their midst.

Today, the BDS Movement dutifully spreads a similar agenda of hate and discrimination and has unfortunately found a home in California.  Under the banner of the BDS Movement, radical Islamist groups operate on college campuses, intimidating and silencing Jewish students, spreading misinformation meant to encourage anti-Semitic activity and preventing Jewish and Israeli academics from participating in university activities.  In addition, BDS Movement boycott activity negatively impacts commercial markets in California.

In a recent decision by the International Executive Board of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), one of the country’s largest labor unions, the union found that the BDS Movement “espouses discrimination and vilification” of union members and a local union’s support of BDS was found to “Intrude upon [the union’s constitution] by subverting the Union in collective bargaining…[and] would have a far reaching  economic impact on UAW and other union members.” 

The words of the UAW speak volumes about the true nature of BDS and the impact of BDS support:

…the local union’s BDS Resolution inherently targets … Israeli and/or Jewish members…this call to action by the local union, in association with the BDS Resolution, is in disregard of the rights of … members of the UAW.  Moreover, this type of activity is suggestive of discriminatory labeling and a disparagement of these members

Similarly, the local union’s [BDS resolution engages in] biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members….

…we find that the provisions of the BDS Resolution, despite semantical claims to the contrary by the local union, can easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion

…notwithstanding the denotation and connotation of words, it is our unanimous belief that the notion of BDS, credibly espouses discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage….Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the State of Israel, Israelis, and, invariably, Jewish union members.

On this basis, the UAW found that BDS support violates the UAW’s International Constitution’s prohibition on discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.

Make no mistake about it, while the BDS Movement is not openly advocating a Nazi-like agenda, their goal is to weaken, delegitimize and ultimately eliminate the Jewish identity of the Middle East (and all vestiges of it throughout the world). 

If the BDS Movement was, in fact, truly concerned with human rights in the Middle East, they’d be taking action against the homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (and neighboring countries’ governments).  Instead, they are trying to destroy the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the region that respects and supports LGBTQ rights.  Recent activities on UC campuses, including targeted harassment of Jewish students by BDS supporters and fostering of radical anti-Semitic activities to marginalize Jewish voices on campuses are simply the tip of the iceberg of this hate movement.

Supporters of the BDS Movement argue that they have a right to protest against Israel and AB 2844 in no way infringes upon this right.  If Governor Brown signs AB 2844 into law, Californians can still take to the streets to voice their opinions against Israel and individual Californians can, if they so choose, avoid doing business with Israel.  

We can all agree that the people of California overwhelmingly oppose discrimination and there is no question that the BDS Movement is an organization that promotes discrimination. AB 2844 is simply an exercise of California’s proprietary power to spend or invest state funds in a manner that reflects the moral and economic interests of the people of the State of California.  AB 2844 follows the same longstanding policy against discriminatory boycotts as is enshrined in a number of federal laws, including the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act and Treasury Department regulations.

The State of California not only has the constitutional authority to choose to not do business with those who foster discrimination, it has a moral obligation to avoid contributing to such activity.  Governor Brown should sign AB 2844 into law.


Marc Greendorfer is an attorney and founder of Zachor Legal Institute, a legal foundation that focuses on constitutional scholarship and rights advocacy