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

Governor Brown should veto flawed BDS law


Since March, the California legislature has struggled to draft a bill aimed at thwarting BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.  As readers of these pages know, BDS is a movement that promotes South Africa-style boycott and divestment strategies to oppose Israel and its policies. For many of its supporters, BDS is a way to challenge the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

[OPPOSITION: In support of AB 2844]

After a torturous path of amendment and revision, the State legislature now has in AB 2844 something it thinks it can live with.  But the revised bill, however well-intentioned, remains seriously flawed.  Governor Brown should veto it.

Earlier versions of the bill would have created a list of companies that participate in BDS – defined to include boycotts targeting Israel or settlements – and prohibited companies on the list from becoming state contractors (a blacklist). After being cautioned by its own legal counsel that economic boycotts qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment, the legislature abandoned its original scheme and converted AB 2844 into a generic anti-discrimination law.

The new law requires state contractors to certify, under penalty of perjury, that they comply with California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Act.  The bill does not mention BDS, but it cautions that any policy maintained by state contractors “against a Sovereign nation or peoples, including but not limited to the nation and people of Israel,” may not be used to discriminate in violation of those laws.

If this sounds a little confusing, it is.  It is not clear whether AB 2844 prohibits any conduct that is not already illegal under California law, because state contractors are already required to certify that they comply with anti-discrimination laws. And the formal findings and analyses that accompany the bill do not explain what, if anything, the new bill would add to existing rules.

The bill does send a symbolic message that California opposes BDS.  And AB 2844 avoids the pitfalls of many anti-BDS bills and regulations recently adopted in other states, which unconstitutionally penalize participation in BDS, and which will almost certainly face credible legal challenges.

Nevertheless AB 2844 is unsound.  The bill’s lack of precision creates a serious risk that courts will give it unexpected interpretations, and it could become a victim of the law of unintended consequences.  On top of all that, it is unfair to put contractors at risk of perjury – with potential criminal sanctions – by requiring them to sign a certification for such a confounding statute.

The legislative history of waffling and revision on the proposal will likely subject the legislature to embarrassment and ridicule for pandering to anti-BDS, pro-settlement forces in the Jewish community.  After learning that it could not prohibit state contractors from exercising their constitutional right to participate in BDS, it looks like the legislature scrambled to come up with something, anything, to please these groups.  And yet, in a backhanded way, the bill legitimizes BDS. It states, in effect, that it is perfectly fine to support BDS, so long as you don’t discriminate in the process. And although some claim that BDS is by its very nature anti-Semitic, if there is one point of clarity in AB 2844, it is that BDS is not intrinsically discriminatory against Jews or others.

Finally, there lurks beneath the bill a difficult and complex question about what it means to have a policy against “the nation and people of Israel.”  There are many strong supporters of the State of Israel, including our organization Americans for Peace Now, who oppose the extreme positions of BDS, but who support a boycott of economic activities that further Israel’s dangerous settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Does the “the nation and people of Israel” in AB 2844 include settlements that the United States government has long declared illegitimate and that are clearly illegal under international law?  

Whether state government should get involved in foreign policy issues is always a difficult question.  That state government needs to be particularly sensitive when entering the thicket of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be self-evident. The fact is, there is no pressing BDS problem that warrants this amount of legislative attention. Nobody is claiming that hordes of state contractors are boycotting Israel, let alone using BDS as a pretext to discriminate against women, the disabled, racial minorities or Jews.

The California experience shows that efforts to defeat BDS legislatively will, ineluctably, run into serious constitutional hurdles and likely will result in ineffective if not counterproductive laws.  Here, AB 2844 will give exposure to the BDS movement, but it’s just not clear what else it will do – and it’s not clear as of now whether that exposure will harm the movement. The BDS controversy is best left to those who can educate, persuade and influence.  This is an issue for public discourse, not confusing and muddled legislation.


Steven J Kaplan and Sanford Weiner are Americans for Peace Now National Board Members. Steven J Kaplan is Chair of the Los Angeles Region of APN.

Pro-Palestinians disrupt NYC Council hearing on anti-BDS resolution


Pro-Palestinian activists and members of the Black Lives Matter movement on Thursday continuously disrupted a hearing held by the New York City Council Committee on Contracts on a 

Pro-Palestinian activists now interrupting “>pic.twitter.com/ujeFwJi2Rv

— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) " charset="utf-8">

A BDS survival guide


Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, standwithus.com. But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

WATCH: Greenfield scolds Neturei Karta leader at anti-BDS hearing


New York City Councilman David Greenfield (Brooklyn – D) scolded the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta for siding with pro-Palestinian activists at a Council committee hearing on an anti-BDS resolution on Thursday.

As seen in the video below, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss performed a sit-in on the floor of the Council’s chambers in protest of a “>frequent interruptions from pro-Palestinian activists, members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Jewish supporters of the BDS movement. Security officers were forced to 

Controversy at UCLA spurs student transfer, complaint, criticism


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the
caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
wThus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

Keeping UCLA a place of thriving Jewish life and pro-Israel activism


There’s a campus where Israel is celebrated and Jews thrive. It’s a place where Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been defeated 15 times since 2002 and where 80 percent of the most recent student body presidents have been committed Jews. 

Every year, hundreds of students celebrate Israel on Yom HaAtzmaut by dancing and waving Israeli flags in the center of campus. More pro-Israel students attend national Zionist conferences than from any other college in the country. And it was students from this campus who piloted the idea of campus-specific trips of non-Jewish influential students to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a program which is now being replicated on 20 other campuses.

[RELATED: UCLA’s betrayal of Milan Chatterjee]

Not to belabor the point, but 200 students regularly attend Shabbat dinners, and at the most recent Interfaith Shabbat, dozens of Muslims joined with Christians, Hindus and Buddhists to celebrate alongside their Jewish friends. Students here wear Jewish paraphernalia with pride all over campus, including Israel Defense Forces T-shirts.

The university I’m profiling is UCLA, and if you have any doubts, you can read more from UCLA students by visiting uclahillel.org/prospective_students.

Based on everything you’ve read so far, UCLA is exactly the kind of place you’d want to send your kids — and rightly so. UCLA has one of the most vibrant and robust Jewish communities of any college campus in the United States.

So why is it that this university has been labeled anti-Semitic and even “unsafe”? 

Well, it’s complicated. The UC system was targeted more than a decade ago by anti-Israel activists for a pernicious community-organizing effort with one goal: to delegitimize the Jewish state. 

Activists strategically built relationships that are now bearing fruit, not just at UCLA, but around the country on nearly every major campus. Hiding behind attractive concepts such as “justice” and “human rights” lurks a movement that denies Israel’s right to exist. As BDS advocate Ahmed Moor stated succinctly: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”

The resulting BDS programming now attacks Israel and its supporters year after year.  The UC system is no longer unique. This is a nationwide problem.

The most recent tactic attempts to defame student leaders who take pro-Israel or even neutral positions. The case against Milan Chatterjee echoes the intimidation and questioning of former UCLA students Rachel Beyda, Lauren Rogers, Sunny Singh, Avinoam Baral and Avi Oved in recent years. Some of those cases even involved illegal email hacking and the leaking of private information. 

Despite these events, Jewish life and pro-Israel activism at UCLA is secure and thriving, and has only grown stronger as a result of Jewish students’ impassioned response. Nevertheless, the current tenor of the anti-Israel campaign on campus is absolutely unacceptable, and I’d like to share some humble suggestions for how you can help:

1. Continue to send us your most passionate, well-educated Jewish students. A strong pro-Israel community is only possible where there is a strong Jewish community to support it. And with few exceptions, the leaders of the pro-Israel community come from homes where they received a robust Jewish education and learned to love Israel.

2. Avoid hyperbolic language such as “unsafe.” It unnecessarily scares parents — and insults the truly dangerous aspects of campus life: sexual violence, drugs, alcohol and stress. We absolutely should push back hard against BDS hostility. And we can do that without invoking Hitler, fascism, Zika and terrorism.

3. Be specific. Join us in insisting that the recently passed Principles Against Intolerance, which specifically reject anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionsim, be vigorously enforced. The policy was enacted. Now it needs to be implemented.

4. Insist that UC administrators refrain from entertaining politically motivated attempts to intimidate students.

5. Praise the administration when it takes positive steps. I disagree with UCLA’s handling of the most recent case, but I applaud the positions Chancellor Gene Block took in an interview with the Jewish Journal last year. Positive feedback provides much more motivation than going negative.

6. Don’t fight with people with whom you mostly agree. Let’s devote our energy to combatting BDS, not fighting other Jews.

7. Finally, let’s reconsider how our reactiveness may be helping draw unwarranted attention to anti-Israel messaging. BDS groups promote divestment campaigns and create controversy to get attention. The response of the Jewish community to these events sometimes provides them exactly that — we wind up inadvertently fueling their fire.

Education, relationships and even empathy are much stronger change agents than yelling or scare tactics. And shifting our focus to the 99 percent of the students who have yet to form an opinion about Israel is a better strategy for ensuring its future than arguing with a handful of obdurate radicals.

There is even hope for those students, though it may simply be a matter of waiting. There’s a reason insurance rates go down at age 25. That’s when the prefrontal cortex, the area of our brains that governs executive function, fully develops. Or to quote one of my Muslim colleagues who is a former BDS activist: “Let me just start this conversation by telling you that I want to smack the 18-year-old version of myself.”

Is everything perfect at UCLA? Of course not. But we have a robust and secure Jewish community, and we are working really hard, and strategically, to make it even better. We need your help to make sure that Jews here continue to enjoy a safe, thriving, innovative and strong community. Your support is valued and appreciated.


Rabbi Aaron Lerner is the executive director of Hillel at UCLA.

UCLA: No place for Jews?


UCLA Chancellor Block’s assertion that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained' on this campus’ has never appeared to be anything but lip service as UCLA succumbs to a virulent form of anti-Semitism that has a Hindu in its cross-hairs.

UCLA Graduate Law Student Milan Chatterjee was betrayed by UCLA, and that betrayal is moving like the Zika virus through UCLA’s active Jewish student population. Unlike Zika, this virus is selective and based solely on religious and social affiliation.  Although UCLA holds the antidote, they seem hesitant to use it.

At this point you may be scratching your head, and trying to figure out if ‘Chatterjee’ is a Jewish name.  It’s not.  Milan is Indian.  Milan is a Hindu.  Milan is as Jewish as the Maharishi is Irish – yet he is suffering the same fate as Jewish students who find themselves up against Students for Justice in Palestine and a cause that SJP champions called ‘BDS’.  This ‘movement’ urges foundations, corporations, educational institutions and individuals to ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ Israel in retribution for the Palestinian conflict in that country.

[RELATED: UCLA as a place of thriving Jewish life]

Milan’s betrayal is a lesson in the adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, and ironically, his betrayal is the harbinger for what is happening to Jewish students on campus, and has ultimately resulted in his being driven from UCLA – pilloried for his accidental involvement with a scurrilous, anti-Semitic movement that not only criticizes policy, but attacks opponents viciously.

At the time of his betrayal, Milan was President of UCLA’s Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), an organization that although part of the Associated Students of UCLA, works independently when it comes to its own rules and procedures.  In October of 2015, Milan received a direct funding request for a Town Hall event by a member of the UCLA student organization, Diversity Caucus (DC) – what appears to be, among other things, a front for the BDS Movement.  

The request seemed to be more about sponsorship for what may seem a hidden agenda, as DC did not go through the proper channels for funding.  It went straight to Milan, and demanded a $2,000 bequest knowing full well that the limit on such grants was $800. The request was nonetheless granted, with the stipulation that the GSA would not be funding any event organized by or actively connected with “Divest from Israel or any related movement/organization.” Knowing that some of the more rabid BDS supporters are known to go for the jugular by confronting and challenging Jewish students, GSA did not want to sponsor ‘a position that will alienate a significant portion of students.”

Milan made it explicitly clear to the Diversity Caucus representative through a phone call, in-person meeting, and email that this stipulation equally applied to advocates both for and against the BDS movement.  What’s fair is fair, and there was a concerted effort to avoid a situation that pitted student against student, for whatever cause.

The Diversity Caucus representative accepted the stipulation—in writing—without any objection. The town hall event was successfully held on November 5, 2015, and throwing caution to the wind, both sides of the BDS issue attended.  That should have been the end of the story, with maybe a thank-you note the only punctuation needed to end the event.

This however is where Milan’s nightmare began.  Instead of a thank you note, Milan was reprimanded by UCLA.  Reprimanded?  Strike that.  He was sanctioned, and made a scapegoat for the failings of UCLA to take a stand against hate speak.  

The hypocrisy of UCLA’s position was elevated in a letter dated February 9, 2016, L. Amy Blum, Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs stated “University policy requires student governments to allocate mandatory student fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis.”  If that was University policy, it should have ended there.

It didn’t.

Soon after the event, Milan began to be hassled, bullied and harassed by SJP and the BDS movement. They enlisted Palestine Legal and the ACLU to launch a vicious PR attack against Milan, where they falsely accused him of engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Erwin Chemerinsky, one of America’s leading constitutional law scholars, and the American Center for Law and Justice, thoroughly debunked this accusation.  

Logic and thoughtful jurisprudence had no effect.  The fuse was lit, and Milan was handed a device that UCLA alone could disarm.  The campus’ Jewish community waited.

In the ensuing days, both SJP and pro-BDS activists launched several attempts to get Milan removed as GSA President, though they were not successful. Moreover, they enlisted pro-BDS blogs and publications to publish defamatory articles about Milan. SJP and pro-BDS activists also circulated a petition around the UCLA campus, and visited all the graduate school councils, where they continued to make defamatory accusations about Milan.

There was no way that the GSA cabinet was going to get involved in this, and in taking a step back, Milan fell over the cowering form of UCLA Chancellor Block, who scurried away and hid while Milan was pilloried in what became a public shaming.  It looks like the DC and SJP got their BDS face-off after all, on the back of a person whose only crime was assisting in getting a so-called diversity event funded.

In what seems a huge misapplication of UCLA policy, that states that even ‘chancellors shall adopt campus implementing regulations consistent with these policies’ – there was nothing coming in way of support of Milan or the Jewish students being affected by SJP and pro-BDS activists.  Chancellor Block’s voice was conspicuously silent, and was taken as tacit approval of BDS and its goals.

Facing a vicious, nine-month long campaign of attacks, Milan rapidly became the poster boy for religious oppression.  The irony that he’s not even close to being Jewish only shows that the tentacles of hate tend to wrap around anyone that crosses BDS.  

UCLA has suffered a history of anti-Semitism that lately has reached a fever pitch of hate and hypocrisy.  Led by a movement that would rather see a child die than provide life saving treatments courtesy of Israeli technology, the BDS’ers have provided Chancellor Block with a poetic double standard.  Had this been a group that went after a visible minority, they would have been quickly and rightly dispatched. Not so with BDS who only seems to direct their ire almost exclusively at pro-Israel and most likely Jewish, mostly white students.   It is that double standard that threatens every Jewish student on campus.

It was just a year ago that UCLA’s Student Council challenged undergraduate Rachel Beyda a seat on its Judicial Board based solely on her religion.  Rachel was Jewish.  Citing concerns that Rachel’s religion might affect her decision making abilities, the active practice of anti-Semitism became transparent, and — though she was eventually seated– it was clear it was infecting the upper echelons of UCLA student government.

Chancellor Block claimed in an articlel in the Jewish Journal that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained on this campus’.  He was right.  BDS is not merely sustained.  BDS is nurtured and fertilized by the silence of Chancellor Block and the UCLA hierarchy that can sound the alarm.

UCLA isn’t the only campus in the UC system whose Jewish community is at Defcon 2.  During a screening of the Israeli Defense Forces documentary “Beneath the Helmet’ at UC Irvine, a Jewish student was corralled and 10 UCI students were threatened by Students for Justice in Palestine.  A statement issued by The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) recognized that what was happening at UC Irvine and at UCLA with Milan “suggests a pattern in which Jewish and non-Jewish students are under assault.”

Think back in history when Jews and those who spoke out in sympathy to their plight were publicly chastised.  This isn’t Weimar, Germany. This is Westwood, California.  

While Milan continued to be digitally drawn and quartered in leaked documents and furtive e-mails, UCLA again found themselves defending hate-speak to the detriment of Jewish students.

Lisa Marie Mendez is a UCLA Student who was employed at the UCLA Medical Center.  Lisa’s connection to Jews and cultural empathy was on full display in a Facebook rant.  In response to a pro-Israel post by Jewish actress Mayim Bialick, Lisa went off on a racial rant that focused on ‘fucking Zionist pigs’.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Lisa left the following literary gem:  

Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit.  Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction.  Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with your whiny bullshit.  Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.

In an effort to sound as lame as they could, UCLA issued a response as if this was a First Amendment issue.  It was more than that.

Mendez crossed a line that defined the level of care that a Jewish patient of UCLA Health could expect.  It doesn’t matter if Mendez was an anesthesiologist or if she sold fish sticks in the cafeteria – her white hot anti-Semitism was most certainly expressed at work, and probably to friends who shared her ignorance.  Regardless of her position, she created a hostile environment for Jewish patients and doctors.  

What was Chancellor Block’s response?  There was none.  

“He’s a wimp” complained a leading Jewish religious figure in Los Angeles.

The official response came from Josh Samuels, who was Mendez’s boss. In a mincing, apologetic attempt to support his employee, Samuels offered this:

“We must also keep in mind that the University cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University finds it.”

Dr. John Mazziotta, the Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health System offered little more.

“The post absolutely does not represent the values of our health system or the believes of our campus community.  It displays insensitivity and ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people and a lack of empathy.”

That’s it?  That’s his response to a racist rant that left no expletive unturned?  Would the response be the same had the author taken down African Americans, or Asians, or Muslims?

The double standard in practice at UCLA endangers every Jewish student.  

What do students think?  I asked a Jewish student if he ever felt ‘challenged’ by BDS:

“In one word, YES.”  The perception is that if you speak out against BDS, the backlash can threaten your education.  “They go after individuals to scare them from being vocal.”  Another student said ‘We feel attacked, constantly.”

And what of Milan Chatterjee?   Every day seems to bring more swipes at his personality and more attempts to destroy his reputation.

“I’m very disappointed that Chancellor Block and his administration did not provide me with any of the necessary support or guidance to overcome the harassment and bullying by BDS,” Milan said in a conversation that I had with him.

Milan has found support, and ironically it comes from one of the groups that he was neutral towards in the town hall event. The Jewish and Pro-Israel community has reached out to Milan.  As BDS attempts to destroy Milan, groups like the American Jewish Committee, Stand With Us, The American Center for Law and Justice, The Lawfare Project, the Zionist Organization of America, and the multi-cultural Israel Christian Nexus have embraced Milan and welcomed him with open arms into their communities.

As UCLA turns away from their responsibility to provide a safe environment for Jewish students, they continue to punish Milan.  Chancellor Block’s silence is deafening.  The potential for harm to Jewish students increases every day that this hate speech is not addressed.

Milan Chatterjee is a brave man who took a stand against taking a stand.  He will be paying for that decision for a long time.  If there is anything positive in this charade, it is the realization that anti-Semitism is a virulent form of hate that masquerades as social reform.  BDS is anti-Semitism.  Milan Chatterjee needn’t be Jewish to experience anti-Semitism.


Richard Stellar is the Co-Founder and COO of The Bestemming Project, Inc.

 

This opinion column was edited and updated September 3, 2016.

Former UCLA student association president, claiming BDS harassment, leaves UCLA


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Thus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

 

Full statement sent to the Journal by UCLA on Aug. 31:

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy.

Throughout the entire process, university officials took great care to respect Chatterjee’s rights, to get to the bottom of the issue fairly and to encourage all sides to de-escalate the heated rhetoric surrounding the dispute between Chatterjee and his fellow students.

The dispute centered on allegations made by student groups that as the then president of the Graduate Student Association, Chatterjee had improperly made funding for a campus event contingent on the sponsoring organization having no connections to groups that supported divestment from Israel — in violation of university policy that funding of student groups and activities must be “viewpoint neutral.”

Conducted by the Discrimination Prevention Office, the university’s investigation included interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence and applicable university regulations. All parties were given the opportunity to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the university’s policy on viewpoint neutrality had been violated. It did not examine or make a determination on whether Chatterjee, the former president of the Graduate Student Association, purposefully or knowingly violated policies.

As reflected in the Principles Against Intolerance recently adopted by the UC Board of Regents, UCLA is firmly committed to freedom of expression, association and debate for all regardless of viewpoint, ethnic background or religious affiliation. Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

___________________________

UPDATE Aug. 31, 2016, 4:37 p.m.: This story has been updated to add UCLA's response and statement.

California’s Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts


A bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel took a final step towards passage in the California legislature as the state Senate voted 34-1 to approve Assembly Bill 2844 on Aug. 24.

The bill faced a long and winding path to approval by the Senate, passing through a number of iterations in an attempt to satisfy concerns about free speech.

Whereas other state bills aimed at rebuking the BDS movement may violate First Amendment rights, AB 2844 skirts those concerns, said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill to the Senate.

“We carefully crafted this bill to not fall into any of those pits,” he said.

The idea behind AB 2844 when “>dub it “no longer a pro-Israel bill.” Bloom encouraged his colleagues to pass it anyway so that it could be salvaged in the Senate, and it passed without opposition.

Then, on June 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee tweaked the bill into roughly its current form.

Now, the measure doesn’t forbid contractors from boycotting Israel. Instead, it requires that companies certify they don’t violate state civil rights law in the course of boycotting a sovereign nation recognized by the United States – including Israel, the only country mentioned by name.

“We are looking not at people’s individual rights to speak, but whether or not what they’re doing violates existing California laws against discrimination,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who chairs the judiciary committee.

Block said the bill was intended to target boycotts rooted in anti-Semitism. He pointed out that proponents of BDS don’t seek to boycott Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, which he called far worse human rights violators than Israel.

“They don’t propose boycotting those nations for political reasons, only the Jewish state,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why only the Jewish state?”

The BDS movement, said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside), is “rooted in the same anti-Semitism that has surrounded Israel since its founding.”

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) was the only legislator to vote against the measure.

“Those standards already apply,” he said of the anti-discrimination measures proposed by the bill. “So we have a bill on the floor that seeks to affirm laws that already exist and people are held accountable for already.”

He went on, “I would have much rather seen the energy generated around this bill be directed towards bringing stakeholders together on our campuses and in our communities to model the type of dialogue that is so desperately needed.”

The bill has until Aug. 31 to gain re-approval in the Assembly before the legislative session ends.

From the beginning, the bill received strong support from the mainstream Jewish community. Block dismissed as “fringe groups” the Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who have denounced the measure.

“Now we have another tool in our toolbox” in the fight against BDS, said Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action (IAX), which has led the move to pass AB 2844.

Evenhaim said that once the bill becomes law, IAX would look to see that it’s used to halt discriminatory boycotts against Israel.

“We’re not just going to frame [the bill] and hang it,” he said. “It’s a much longer fight and a much longer process.”

Dillon Hosier, the national director of state and local government affairs for IAX, said the federal government is producing a list of companies “engaged in a coercive political boycott against Israel.”

Once that list is composed it “will be a strong resource” in using AB 2844 to combat BDS in California.

In a joint phone interview, both officials praised the efforts by the legislature to fine-tune the measure.

“The bill was modified to really be very strong and secure from a constitutional perspective while also frankly confronting directly BDS and its effects,” Hosier said.

He said he’s continuing to work with Bloom and expects the bill to receive a vote in the Assembly on Aug. 29.

But the updates made to the bill as it wound its way through the legislature failed to quiet its opponents.

“From the start, the aim of AB 2844 has been to punish and chill First Amendment protected conduct – BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom,” Rahul Saksena, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said in an emailed statement. “The sponsors have jumped through hoops and hurdles trying to amend the bill to make it ‘less unconstitutional,’ but you can't fix a fundamentally flawed bill.”

Bill de Blasio challenges progressives to oppose BDS


NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has a message to his fellow progressives: rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a progressive cause.

“There are plenty of people who support BDS who have advanced degrees and who call themselves progressives. I look forward to challenging them because it’s ahistorical,” De Blasio, a prominent progressive leader, told congregants in an address after Shabbat morning services at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, New York on Saturday. “I think it’s one of the most ahistorical things I’ve ever seen.”

Taking pride in serving as mayor of the city with the largest Jewish population of any city in the world, de Blasio said that defending Israel as a progressive “is a matter of being consistent with progressive values” and “an understanding that we must always learn the painful lessons of history and do something about it.”

According to the mayor, the BDS movement “seeks to undermine the economy of the State of Israel and makes it harder for Israel to exist – therefore, renouncing the very notion that the Jewish people need a homeland in a still dangerous and unsettled world.”

“We in the United States, or in any nation, you can disagree with a particular government’s policy at that moment in time, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in that nation, or its right to exist, or its founding ideals,” de Blasio asserted. “Israel, in good times and bad, tough times and easier times, has been a beacon. The ideas running through this still young nation, the nation that actually sought to be a beacon to the world. And then did so many good works, including this very day where there are disasters around the world Israel is one of the first to be there in defense of those in need, regardless of their background regardless of [faith].”

A recent Pew poll “>signed an executive order that orders state agencies to divest themselves of companies and organizations who support the BDS movement. “In New York, we lead by example. We are also a place of action. We want to take immediate action because we want Israel to know that we are on their side,” Cuomo said at a signing ceremony in New York City.“If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Jewish Insiderwhether the mayor would issue a similar order to all city agencies.

In his address, de Blasio also addressed the 25th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots – as the community showcased the growing cooperation and unity between the Orthodox Jewish and the black community in a series of public events – as evidence of how the city has come together in terms of tolerance and understanding of each other.

“Go to Crown Heights today,” he said, “is it perfect? No. Are all the tensions gone? No. But has there been an extraordinary, and consistent, and emphatic effort by the black community and the Jewish community to find each other, to work with each other, to listen to each other? Yes. Have the leaders made it common to meet with each other and look for ways to amplify harmony? Yes. Is there extraordinary understanding that everyone is in it together in that community? Yes.”

At the center, battling left and right extremism


It’s not going to end. 

I’m talking about the increasing demonization of Israel by progressive organizations and individuals. This month it was Black Lives Matter’s platform, and the vulgar cold shoulder given the Israeli Olympic athletes by some Lebanese and Egyptian athletes. 

Next month it will be the BDSers waiting to greet your college kids back to a new school year with mock Israeli checkpoints, divestment drives and protests against Israeli speakers.  

More and more progressive voices are falling prey to the simpleminded and extreme formulations of the radical anti-Israel crowd. These are not people who want a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — they see Israel’s existence itself as unjust. 

The Black Lives Matter platform is the perfect example. It took legitimate concerns over the amount of United States aid to Israel and turned it into hate speech. The platform accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian people — something that should come as a shock to the 4.1 million more Palestinians alive today in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza than in 1948, when Israel came into being. 

Black lives do matter. But when it comes to Israel, so do facts. The only genocide in the Middle East is being perpetrated by Syrians against Syrians. On that, the BLM platform is unconscionably silent.

But BLM’s seemingly out-of-the-blue illogical attack on Israel should come as no surprise to people watching what’s happening everywhere from college campuses to the Bernie Sanders campaign — pro-Israel progressive voices are playing defense. 

“So-called intersectionality and identity politics,” Omer Benjakob writes in Haaretz, have been “conflating progressivism with blind support for BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], creating an impossible dilemma for liberal Jews who want to be supportive of Israel.”

The fringes have bought the arguments of the Israel haters, and the extremes are eating toward the center.

And who are their greatest enablers? The extremists on the other side. 

In their persistent defense of the occupation, their cynical attempt to paint every act of Palestinian resistance as a stalking horse for Islamic fundamentalism, and their constant support for — or silence in the face of — the settlement project and its attendant injustices, the pro-Israel extremes continue to undermine the strategic and ethical standing of the Jewish state. 

These are the people who keep telling us that Israel is nothing but a victim, that the problem is only anti-Semitism, that if Israel could just do a better job of telling its story, of teaching our children to defend its actions, then the world would understand. 

What they don’t get is you can’t change the narrative without changing the reality. You can’t fix the image without fixing the facts. And the fact is that a democracy cannot deprive millions of people of their democratic rights and remain viable, much less popular. 

Occupation and the settlement project behind it undermine Israel’s security, its morality, its very existence. That’s why the strongest voices against the occupation have always been pro-Israel and pro-security. That’s why people who put Israel’s security first, like Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to their extremists. 

Whether you are Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Arab, the center is an increasingly lonely place these days. In the center are those of us who understand that the occupation does not justify anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism does not justify the occupation. 

In the center are those who choose to fight BDS as if there is no occupation, and fight occupation as if there is no BDS. In the center are those who believe neither Israel nor the Palestinians need to justify their existence to anyone. In the center are those who believe the happiness and security of both peoples are inextricably linked to one another. 

The center might not be dead, but it is shrinking. From the left and the right, extremism shows no sign of ending. And if that continues, none of this is going to end well.

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.

Gov. Christie signs New Jersey anti-BDS measure into law


TRENTON, New Jersey – The State of New Jersey on Tuesday became the tenth state in the nation to implement a law that opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the state of Israel.

Flanked by local Jewish community leaders, Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bipartisan measure that prohibits the state from investing in pension and annuity funds that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses.

“Let folks in Israel understand that there still are people in the United States – and people of both parties in this state – who understand that unequivocal, unashamed, unapologetic support of Israel is a policy of the state of New Jersey,” Christie said at a signing ceremony in Trenton, NJ on Tuesday. “And it should be the policy of the United State of America, and hopefully will be in the years going forward.”

“I am happy to add my voice and my signature to this law. It’s with American and Israeli leadership together [that] the world can be a safer place, in every respect,” he added.

Anti-BDS laws have already been enacted in nine states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and South Carolina. And in June, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo 


   ” target=”_blank”>Subscribe here.


BDS bill headed to California Senate floor next week


As early as late next week, the California Senate could vote on a bill signaling the California legislature’s disapproval of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, according to Guy Strahl, the legislative director for Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, who wrote the bill.

A 6-0 vote on Aug. 11 by the seven-member Senate’s Appropriations Committee cleared the way for the bill to go to the floor. Sen. Jim Beall was absent for the vote.

Though Strahl said Bloom is still looking for a Senate floor manager, the legislator intends to put the measure before the upper chamber as soon as possible. Because of procedural time limits, Aug. 18 is the first day it could see a vote, he said.

The bill mandates that companies contracting with the state certify that any policy they might have boycotting a nation recognized by the U.S., including but not limited to Israel, does not violate state and federal civil rights law.

Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, the committee determined the bill would cost upwards of $370,000 to implement in its first year on the books, a price tag that sent it to the so-called “suspense file,” a waiting list of bills deemed expensive enough to merit further review. Since that determination, an amendment made at Bloom’s request significantly reduced the projected cost of the measure, Strahl said.

In its previous form, the bill forwarded complaints about boycott policies directly to the attorney general. Bloom’s amendment drops that mandatory review and allows civil rights complaints to be vetted through relevant state agencies, such as the Department of General Services (DGS), which overseas contractors.

The measure has faced a long and winding road through various committees in both houses of the legislature. Consideration on the Senate floor would be among the final steps to passage. If the Senate approves the bill, it will head back to the Assembly, where it has already passed once, to be considered again.

Why Spain is standing up to BDS — for now


Only last year, Spain was still the undisputed bastion for the BDS movement in Europe.

Some 50 Spanish municipalities had passed resolutions in recent years endorsing BDS — an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — more than in any other European country.

Relying on backing from a strong far left, the branches of Spain’s BDS movement were able to exert considerable pressure.

Last August, BDS activists pressured the organizers of a reggae festival near Barcelona to demand that the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu sign a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Matisyahu, who was the only artist asked to sign the document, was disinvited when he declined. He wasreinvited following an international outcry over what was perceived as an anti-Semitic measure.

It was not an unusual occurrence in a country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and where Jews are often conflated with Israel — including by a Catalan lawmaker who in May demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent.”

But the wind has shifted for BDS in Spain, where the movement recently was labeled discriminatory in a series of legal defeats and resentment growing against its activists because they oppose trade with Israel at a time of economic crisis.

Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities.

“The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

In January, Spain’s Council of State, the country’s highest consulting body, made a similar ruling, forcing the government to compensate a West Bank Israeli university to the tune of $107,000 over its exclusion for political reasons from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Such rulings are commonplace in neighboring France, where BDS is included among other forms of illegal discrimination against countries or their citizens under a 2003 law introduced by Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish lawmaker. Dozens of BDS activists have been convicted in France of inciting hate or discrimination based on the Lellouche law and other legislation. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in February said it would pass similar laws.

But in Spain, where a judge in 2009 opened a war-crimes probe against the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such strong judiciary treatment of BDS is unexpected and revolutionary, according to Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who had served in Spain during the 1990s as cultural attache.

Palmor said the BDS shift coincided with several developments in Spain that were welcomed by Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders. They include legislation to naturalize Sephardic Jews, support for Israel’s position on Palestinian statehood, a crackdown on anti-Semitic hate speech and a massive investment in the restoration of Jewish heritage sites.

Palmor attributes these changes to a mix of factors, including Spain’s gradual adoption of European standards on hate speech, improved rule of law and the election of a relatively stable centrist government.

And then there’s the effect of the financial crisis. Many Spaniards feel their country cannot afford to spurn any partners – especially not an affluent Western country like Israel. Last year, Spain had 21 percent unemployment and 45 percent among workers under 25.

The effects of the financial crisis on popular attitudes toward BDS were on full display last month in the northern city of Santiago de Compostella. After its City Council passed a nonbonding resolution supporting BDS, Israel’s national airline El Al reportedly ended talks on opening a direct connection to the city.

Local politicians for Spain’s centrist Popular Party accused the local government, led by a far-left party, of sabotaging the local tourism industry and precious jobs.

Israel, whose GDP per capita in 2015 was 36 percent higher than Spain’s $25,831, provides Spain with approximately 350,000 tourists annually.

Some observers also see a financial incentive in Spain’s historic legislation last year to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews with ties to Spain.

Spanish officials described the move as correcting the historical wrong done to Iberian Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – a state- and church-backed campaign of persecution that began in 1492 and was not abolished until 1834. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and countless others became Christians under duress.

At least 4,500 of their descendants became Spanish citizens under the legislation in a process that generated millions of euros in revenue for Spanish notaries, government offices and language instructors. The legislation coincided with several Spanish initiatives to draw wealthy residents from abroad as well as tourists.

In 2004, Spain’s Congress passed a nonbinding motion conditioning support for Palestinian statehood on direct negotiations between both sides. The motion was considered a diplomatic victory for Israel and its supporters, especially after the parliaments of Britain, France and several other European countries pledged unconditional support for Palestine.

Until recently, Spain’s largely independent judiciary was subject to pressure from BDS supporters, noted Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s ABC network.

“The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

Representatives of the BDS movement in Spain did not respond to JTA’s requests for an interview. But a campaign launched on their website in April showed they are feeling the heat.

In a petition titled “Stop criminalizing BDS,” they asserted that “activists of non-violent struggle [against Israel] are under threat.” They urged the European Commission to enforce in Spain “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to boycott.”

Though Spain has modernized greatly since the fall in 1975 of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, “it is still a decade or two arrears in many areas” compared to other Western European countries, Palmor said. Many Spaniards display strong anti-American – and by proxy, anti-Israeli — sentiment and “a worldview of Jews that’s at times based on medieval imagery,” he said.

With a Jewish population of only 6,000, there is “a lot of ignorance about Jews,” Palmor said. That manifests itself in phenomena that hardly occur elsewhere in Western Europe, including the airing of anti-Semitic screeds on public radio and cases like the Matisyahu affair.

Those tendencies suggest why Mas of the ACOM group is not celebrating his victories over BDS just yet. He calls it a fight against a rival much larger and stronger than his group of volunteers.

“The Spanish Jewish community is small and overstretched,” he said. “It’s not the kind of community that can easily confront over time a challenge presented by well-entrenched activists with foreign funding and a foothold in government.”

Israeli task force formed to locate, deport BDS activists


A new Israeli government task force is being formed to deport anti-Israel activists at work in the country.

The committee, announced on Sunday by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri, will be tasked with locating and expelling activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel who are in the country and with preventing those outside the country from entering.

The task force “is a necessary step in light of the malicious intentions of delegitimization activists who act to spread lies and twist the reality in our region,” Erdan said in his announcement, according to The Jerusalem Post. Erdan also serves as Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Erdan announced the task force and called on his followers to report any activists hiding in the country as “imposter tourists.”

“Boycotting Israel must have a price,” he said.

BDS bill would cost California a small fortune each year, committee says


The California Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations put a price tag on a bill meant to show the legislature’s disapproval of the movement to boycott Israel.

Committee staff determined Assembly Bill 2844, introduced by Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom, would cost the state’s Attorney General (AG) about $370,000 during the next fiscal year and $625,000 every year after.

The bill requires companies that obtain state contracts of more than $100,000 to certify that any boycott policy they might have against a government recognized by the United States doesn’t result in discrimination under existing federal and state law.

Originally, the bill prevented the state from entering into contract with companies that boycott Israel. “>committee analysis. That means even a small increase in the cost of administration can result in huge expenses for the state.

The Senate committee will consider the bill again on Aug. 11 and determine whether to forward it to the floor. If the Senate votes in favor of the measure, it will go back to the Assembly for re-approval.

Clinton supporters defeat ‘occupation’ language at platform committee meeting


Supporters of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic Party’s platform committee on Saturday rejected several proposals that would have undermined the party’s longstanding support for Israel.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) released a ” target=”_blank”> approved by the drafting committee in St. Louis a week earlier. “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” the draft reads. “Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

On the second day of the platform drafting committee’s two-day meeting in Orlando, Florida, supporters of Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment that would add “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so they may live in” to the original language. The proposal was voted down 95-73.

The rejection led to loud boos and one man was escorted out by an officer in the room after he shouted out that Democrats had “sold out to AIPAC,” according to CNN.

Before the vote, Dr. Cornel West urged the passage of the amendment, to roaring applause and a standing ovation from Sanders supporters.

“This is a moral issue. This is an issue of our time. It has spiritual and moral implications,” West said. “This is not just about politics, not just about the next election. Democratic Party, you’ve been in denial for too long. Palestinians ought to be free.”

The committee also rejected an amendment to “rebuild Gaza which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020, and where poverty and hopelessness undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis” (95 vs. 72). Another amendment to remove the military option from the Iran non-compliance language failed 67-98.

New GOP platform language removes two-state solution


The Republican Party platform will likely reject the idea of a two-state solution, a pillar of U.S. policy under both previous Democratic and Republican administrations, according to a platform draft pending the approval of the Republican Party’s Platform Committee.

“We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier,” the platform’s language on Israel, approved by a subcommittee in Cleveland on Monday, reads. “Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

The platform draft makes no mention of the two-state solution or reference to the creation of a Palestinian state in a possible peace settlement.

The platform also recognizes that “the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel” and calls for federal legislation “to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The amendment was proposed by GOP delegate Alan Clemmons, a South Carolina state representative, and approved by a 14-2 vote.

In the 2012 platform, the Republicans supported for “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders,” and advocated for “two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”

As previously “>lobbying for the adoption of the current language, told Jewish Insider. “We wholeheartedly endorse the new Israel plank and we hope and pray and are working to ensure that the full committee adopts the subcommittee’s language as well. The new language is much more in line with GOP voters – and stands far more clearly with Israel’s sovereignty and security.”

“Pro-Israel voters will be confronted with a very, very clear choice in 2016,” added Ballabon.

The Democratic Party’s platform,  ” target=”_blank”>Subscribe here.


Bernie Sanders’ appointee to platform committee says ‘I’m not anti-Israel’


James Zogby, one of Bernie Sanders’ appointees to the the Democratic Party’s platform committee, said he had been unfairly typecast as an anti-Israel activist.

“I’ve just been cast as the anti-Israel guy,” Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said in an interview published Friday in The Jerusalem Post. “People will type you.”

This view, which Zogby said does not reflect his views toward the Jewish state, “bothers me more than anything else that it fuels a simplistic, combative narrative,” he said.

As a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee,  Zogby has played a key role in attempt to include in the party’s platform language that recognizes Palestinian “dignity,” and against Israel’s “occupation” and “settlement activity” in what the proposed inclusions refer to as Palestinian lands, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The latest draft of the platform, which is set to be finalized in July, declares that achieving Palestinian statehood would provide “the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” whereas previous formulations referred to a two-state solution as benefitting only Israel. A proposed phrase calling on Israel to end “Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements” in the West Bank was defeated last week in an executive committee meeting in St. Louis.

Zogby supports the rights of Americans to boycott products produced in the settlements. He also told The Jerusalem Post that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does more to delegitimize the State of Israel than the BDS movement ever has.”

But, “On the issue of delegitimizing Israel, I object to language that ultimately crosses the line into anti-Semitism,” he said. “That language is offensive, its anti-Semitic and its hurtful.”

The son of Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon, Zogby has become one of the most prominent voices for the Arab-American community. He has a son who is married to a Muslim and a daughter married to a Jew, he said.

“When you type me and reduce me to one thing– which is some ‘hater of’ or ‘threat to’ or ‘danger to’ Israel – then there are crazy people out there who will decide to do things,” he complained. He said he has received death threats. The Post article did not specify as to the nature of these threats.

In the 1990s, then vice president Al Gore tapped Zogby to help promote business investment in the Palestinian territories, in a project known as Builders for Peace. President Barack Obama has twice appointed him to serve on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in 2013 and 2015.

According to the Post, Zogby’s views are aligned with those of J Street, the Jewish organization which supports increasing international pressure on Israel to speed negotiations toward a two-state solution, which J Street says will benefit both peoples. J Street defines itself as a pro-Israel organization.

Zogby said his attempt to include language that speaks of Israel occupation reflects mainstream views. “There isn’t a president in the last 30 or 40 years who doesn’t call it an occupation,” he said, noting that consecutive Republican and Democratic administrations have also condemned Israel’s continued settlement activity in the West Bank.

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, named five of the platform committee’s members, including Zogby and two other frequent critics of Israeli policy, Cornel West, a philosopher and African-American social activist, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress.

California’s bill to combat BDS passes state senate judiciary committee


California State Assembly Bill (AB) 2844 had a long and winding path to its passage by the California State Senate judiciary committee June 28. It was first submitted to the State Assembly by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) as an attempt to circumvent the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. 

The bill passed the California Assembly on June 2, but only after a Democratic-controlled appropriations committee had transformed it, including deleting any mention of Israel while changing the language to say boycotts against sovereign nations are unacceptable. The changes were so significant that many of the bill’s original backers said they would not support it further unless the state’s Senate made significant changes.

Significant changes had been made to the bill before the vote Tuesday. The bill that was approved by the judiciary committee no longer prohibits California from entering into contracts with companies boycotting Israel. Instead, it bars the state from entering into contracts with companies that violate California’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The current language no longer includes the word “boycott.” 

The current bill prohibits companies from having policies against a sovereign country, “including, but not limited to, the nation and people of Israel,” that are a pretext for violating anti-discrimination laws. 

The Tuesday vote, according to Bloom, was five in favor and two opposed.

Bloom said he supports the revised version of the bill: “We think it’s specific enough now to send a strong message about BDS-type behavior, which at its most fundamental level is discriminatory behavior, but broad enough to include other circumstances as well as other countries,” he said.

I’m very happy that the bill passed,” Dillon Hosier, senior political adviser for the Israeli-American Nexus, the advocacy arm of the Israeli-American Council, said in a phone interview after the vote held at the State Capitol in Sacramento. “We look forward to seeing it go to the [Senate] appropriations committee. Hopefully, we get a concurrence vote in the assembly and then it’s on to the governor.” 

Hosier was one of several Los Angelenos who spoke in support of the bill before the vote. Others included Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).  Groups supporting the bill include the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, 30 Years After and others.

Hannah-Beth Jackson, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, is among the bill’s co-authors. Other members of the committee include Sen. Mark Leno, who voted to support the bill. He said the legislation’s wording improved upon previous versions and that he was “more pleased with this version than any previous versions.”

Sen. Bill Monning voted against the revised bill submitted to the judiciary committee. He believes the bill limits free speech.

“This bill does not seek to condemn acts of anti-Semitism,” he said. “This bill seeks to limit exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

Those speaking against the bill during the public comment portion included Carol Sanders of Jewish Voice for Peace, local progressive activist Marcy Winograd and others. 

Presbyterians vote to “re-evaluate” two-state solution


The Anti-Defamation League expressed “disappointment” after the Presbyterian Church USA passed several resolutions aimed at pressuring Israel and re-evaluating church support for the two-state solution.

The church’s General Assembly, held in Portland, ended on Sunday.

Among the resolutions passed was approval of the report of a committee charged with studying the two-state solution and possible alternatives, “including but not limited to that of two sovereign states — Israel and Palestine.” The report, approved 429 to 129, said that the church “stands with the people of Israel, affirming their right to exist as a sovereign nation” just as they affirm such rights for Palestinians.

However, the report also suggest that facts on the ground, mostly but not solely the fault of Israel, have made the possibility of a two-state solution dim if not impossible.

Another resolution called for the “prayerful study” of the church’s use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and opposition to BDS.

A third resolution urged the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements. Supporters of the overture reportedly said they received prior to the General Assembly a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank.”

In its statement the ADL lamented that the church opened discussions over a single state or “bi-national” solution to the conflict, and that it supported economic pressure on Israel or its settlements.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” Rabbi David Sandmel, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, said in a statement. “Any alternative to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would mean the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a view that is offensive to millions of Israelis and Jews around the world.”

The report by the church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy acknowledges that alternatives to the two-state solution are  “less attractive political possibilities,” including a “Jewish dominated state that further oppresses the Palestinians, or a potential Arab/Muslim majority state that could conceivably subject Jewish Israelis to expulsion or subjugation.”

The plenary also approved a report submitted by the Advisory Committee supporting measures that revoke tax deductions and 501(c) 3 status to organizations that promote and finance Israeli settlements. It encouraged Congress to investigate the use of U.S.-made equipment in so-called Israeli human rights violations, and supporting the enforcement of laws requiring the labeling of settlement products as such.

The church itself acknowledged that delegates to the Assembly were divided over the Advisory Committee’s paper, with some saying that its “tone and rhetoric … did not promote  reconciliation.” Those critics “urged more balance in speaking about  violence and injustices committed by both Palestinians and Israelis,”according to the church’s own Presbyterian News Service.

On Saturday, the Unitarian Universalists at their General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio voted on a resolution to divest from Israel.

The measure garnered the votes of 54 percent of the delegates, a vote of 774 to 646, but did not muster the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.