A sign painted on a wall in Bethlehem calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

New Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort against Israel


The UN Human Rights Commissioner has started sending letters to 150 companies in Israel and around the world, warning them that they will be put on a blacklist for doing business in Jewish communities in the West Bank, east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

According to Israeli press reports, the proposed list includes large American companies such as Coca-Cola, Caterpillar, Priceline.com, and Trip Advisor. According to Israel Television’s Channel 2, Israeli companies targeted include pharmaceutical giant Teva, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim as well as the national water company Mekorot.

The exact details of the letter and which other companies have been advised are murky.

When contacted by The Media Line, an Israeli government spokesman refused to comment on the issue.

Israeli analysts said the move is part of a concerted Palestinian effort to pressure Israel in diplomatic venues to end its expansion of Jewish settlements, a goal that seems unlikely. The report of the blacklist comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while headlining a celebration marking 50 years of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, affirmed that “there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel.”

Some Israeli observers said the UN Human Rights Commission, headed by Jordanian Zeid Ra’ad Al Husseini, continues to pursue an anti-Israel policy.

“Nothing coming out of the Human Rights Commission is serious and Al Husseini is known to be completely and utterly hostile to Israel,” Alan Baker, an expert in international law and a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, told The Media Line. “They can send out whatever they want and they can adopt whatever resolutions they want but it doesn’t mean anything will come of it. This is part of the political action by an organization that has no credibility and no power.”

But the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that a number of companies that received the letter told the Human Rights Commissioner that they do not intend to renew contracts or sign new ones in Israel.

The list is part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which pursues a policy of placing economic pressure on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements. The letter circulated apparently includes companies active in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, and the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered from Syria in 1967 and later annexed as well.

“After decades of Palestinian dispossession and Israeli military occupation and apartheid, the United Nations has taken its first concrete, practical steps to secure accountability for ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement said in a statement. “The Palestinians warmly welcome this step.”

Praise also came from senior Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi. “Israel’s illegal settlement policies and practices are a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and in direct contravention of international law,” Ashrawi said in a statement. “Such a development is an indication of the United Nations attempt to curb Israeli violations and to begin a process of legal accountability for those who are complicit in illegal settlements.”

According to Israeli statistics, 380,000 Israelis live in Jewish communities located in the West Bank, and another 200,000 live in east Jerusalem. Palestinians say that all of these areas must be part of a future Palestinian state, although in the past officials have reportedly accepted the principle of land swaps in the event of any comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

It is not likely that Israeli companies on the list will make any policy changes in response to the letter, if and when it becomes public. Israeli companies for the most part do not distinguish between their operations on either side of the 1967 borders. Banks have branches both inside Israel and in the West Bank, and Israel’s national bus company runs buses there as well.

While all the details remain unknown, some Israelis believe there could be negative ramifications.

“This is a major political and economic battleground and the results are unclear,” Gerald Steinberg, the President of NGO Monitor, told The Media Line. “It is not a trivial issue, but it is also not the end of the world.”

Israeli media reported that U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the Human Rights Commission if the list of companies is publicized.

The reports of the boycott list come the day after Interpol voted to admit the Palestinians as a member state, a move Jerusalem opposes and tried hard to prevent. It is part of an ongoing Palestinian strategy focused on achieving diplomatic gains through international forums as opposed negotiating the terms for the creation of an independent state through bilateral talks with Israel.

Joseph Weiss, left, learns about tzitzit with volunteer Shalom Ber-Scheinfeld at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, one of four Next Stage grant recipients.

Nonprofits benefit from Jewish Community Foundation’s new grant program


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has launched the Next Stage grant program, providing nearly $1 million in awards to four local Jewish nonprofits — Creative Community for Peace, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC) and ETTA, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Three of the recipients were awarded a $250,000 grant and Silverlake Independent JCC received $200,000, given out over the next two years. All four organizations had previously received the Foundation’s Cutting Edge grants.

The pilot program continues grants of more than $17 million awarded by the Foundation since 2006 to help nearly 100 programs and organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges that even the most innovative and best-run nonprofits confront is the path to achieving sustainability,” Elana Wien, vice president of the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said. “Next Stage Grants was piloted to provide the assistive ‘tools’ — in the form of grant monies, but also professional coaching and other consultative resources — to better enable their success. The success of these nonprofits represents, in turn, a boon to the whole of our local Jewish community, now and in the future.”

A unique aspect of the selection process for these grants, Wien said, is that leaders from each grantee got a chance to discuss with the Foundation their potential involvement with the pilot program.

The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles helps about 120 children with special needs and their families through 20 programs with a volunteer network of more than 500 teens.

“We are thrilled to have the Foundation’s confidence and support to streamline and strengthen our organization, which will ultimately help the children with special needs, families and volunteers who depend on our vital services,” said Gail Rollman, Friendship Circle’s development director.

ETTA is planning to use the grant to expand its programs.

“The demand for programs to help adults with special needs is continually rising,” ETTA Executive Director Michael Held said. “This funding will contribute greatly to helping ETTA fulfill its mission of inclusion and independence for the clients we serve.”

The Creative Community for Peace provides support to artists so they can resist pressure from boycott groups in response to scheduled performances in Israel. The organization uses its broad network to educate artists who are touring in Israel and to mobilize a grass-roots social media response to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement protests.

The Silverlake JCC hosts an early childhood center, a Jewish learning center and community-led classes and programs, including East Side Jews and Culture Lab.

According to Wien, the Next Stage program is among the first by any Jewish community foundation in the United States offering “capacity-building support” of this scale to sustain nonprofits’ operations, growth and long-term viability. 

White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

What’s a bigger threat to Jews, left or right?


Who’s worse, the fanatics who want to kill us now or the extremists who want to kill us later? That was the question Jews locked onto this week, like two dogs playing tug of war with a sock. It’s entertaining until one of them loses a tooth.

The fight began after President Donald Trump equivocated in his condemnation of neo-Nazis and placed the blame for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., on both the alt-right and the people who came to protest them.

Trump’s insistence that there was blame on “many sides” and there were “good people on both sides” drew justifiable denunciation from a broad swath of the Jewish world. The nonpartisan Anti-Defamation League (yes, it’s nonpartisan), of course, condemned the president’s remarks. But so did Haskel Lookstein, the Orthodox rabbi who officiated at Ivanka Trump’s conversion, as well as the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

If there’s one thing most Jews can still manage to agree on, it’s that Nazis are bad.

But then came social media, and that’s where the fights broke out.

Yes, what Trump did was terrible, but the real danger to American Jews is the left, some people argued. It’s the antifa people, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and Black Lives Matter with its anti-Zionist platform who intimidate Jewish students on college campuses, shut down free speech for pro-Israel speakers, and in the case of BDS, work toward a world where Israel and the Palestinians can bloody each other in a Lebanon-circa-1982-style civil war. At this year’s Chicago SlutWalk, the leftist organizers refused to let Jews march under a banner showing the Star of David, a Jewish symbol that long predates the State of Israel. 

Yeah, the leftists shot back, but what about … Nazis? It’s the alt-right members who carry guns, threaten synagogues as they did in Charlottesville, chant “Jews will not replace us,” and far and away commit more violent attacks. To paraphrase Sally Field, they hate us, they really hate us.

This is how the arguments play out on Facebook, Instagram and, occasionally, as they say on Twitter, IRL — in real life.

Some debaters go straight to history, or at least to something they remember from the History Channel. The left gave us Stalin and Mao. The fascists gave us Hitler. The left aligned with Palestinian terrorists. The right gave us … Hitler.

The right says that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas can’t compare to an international movement like BDS. The left points out that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas is an exact description of the Nazi Party in 1921.

The right claims there’s something called the alt-left that is dangerously anti-Semitic. The left points out that Fox News host Sean Hannity invented the term “alt-left” to stoke fear, whereas a neo-Nazi created the word “alt-right” to rebrand his loathsome movement.

“There is no comparable side on the left to the alt-right,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on MSNBC this week.  “White supremacists amass with …  a nationalist agenda that pushes out minorities based on how you pray, who you love or where you’re from. So, it’s really not comparable.”

I’ve read the platforms of antifa groups online, and they all state they oppose all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. That’s not a claim you find on DailyStormer.com. Having said that, I wouldn’t be shocked one day to find anti-fascists showing up to intimidate marchers at a pro-Israel rally. Leftist politicians in England like Jeremy Corbyn side with terrorists against Israel, and their sickness is infectious.

The bottom line is, after our initial almost-unity in condemning Trump’s remarks, we quickly split on which extreme should concern us more. Astonishingly, the Democrats in the debate tend to “objectively” consider the neo-Nazis a far worse threat, while the Republicans “objectively” conclude that the antifas and BDS-ers are the clear and present danger. People come in with their biases and leave with them intact. No minds are changed in the making of this debate.

Here’s what I think: We need to sleep with one eye open, sometimes the right one, sometimes the left one.

The far right and far left always circle back to meet each other under the same DSM entry for paranoia, conspiracy theories, violence and Jew hatred. The far left disguises anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. The far right disguises nothing: They hate Jews and the “Zios.”

These days, the far right has gotten a big blast of wind in its sails from our president (thanks for that) and the limp response from fellow Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who failed to stand up to him. Not to mention the Jews who serve or sometimes live with Trump. They only make things worse.

But winds shift. That means next time someone tries to convince you that all the danger blows from one direction, remind them that it doesn’t. The Jewish left needs to mind the left, and the Jewish right the right. Let’s work together to fight the fanatics and their enablers wherever, and whoever, they are.


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.

Royce Hall at UCLA

UCLA named America’s third best campus for Jews


The Forward named UCLA the third best college in the United States for Jewish life, behind only Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania.

The ranking was part of the Jewish newspaper’s first ever college guide, which weighed universities using a formula that factored in the categories of academics, Jewish life and Israel, listing the top 18. Factored into UCLA’s score were its many Jewish organizations, the availability of kosher food and its Jewish studies program .

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said the school’s thriving Jewish life is a result of the bottom-up model employed by some of the 20 or 25 Jewish clubs and organizations that exist on campus, most prominently by Hillel.

“We’re probably going towards a decade of student leaders who have been fully empowered to run a great Jewish community, and as a result that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

UCLA scored high on the Forward ranking for academics and Jewish life, but its score flagged when it came to Israel, with nine points out of a possible 20. In recent years, the school has been the site of several high-profile incidents where Israel’s reputation came under fire, such as a student government resolution in 2014 calling for divestment from Israel.

But Lerner said those events are exceptions to a campus environment that otherwise embraces its Jewish students.

“It doesn’t define the student experience,” he told the Journal. “It’s incidental, not endemic.”

Ben Gurion Airport courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

More than 200 liberal U.S. rabbis want Israel to lift travel ban on BDS leaders


More than 200 rabbis from the liberal movements of American Judaism signed a letter opposing Israel’s travel ban on leaders of the boycott movement against Israel.

The rabbis signing Wednesday’s letter were responding to an incident last month in which Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was prevented from boarding an Israel-bound airplane leaving Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

Four other people traveling to Israel as part of an interfaith delegation, including two other Jews, a Christian and a Muslim, were also prevented from boarding the flight at the request of the Israeli government.

“We hold diverse opinions on BDS. Even though many of us have substantive differences with Rabbi Wise and other rabbinic colleagues who support the BDS movement in some or all of its forms, we believe that the decision to bar Rabbi Wise from visiting Israel is anti-democratic and desecrates our vision of a diverse Jewish community that holds multiple perspectives,” read the letter, which had been signed by 212 rabbis as of late Wednesday morning.

“Boycotts are a legitimate nonviolent tactic that have been used both in our own country and around the world in order to create justice for marginalized and oppressed communities. Whether we support boycott is a controversy for the sake of heaven. It endures because we struggle together and debate how we can create peace, justice, and equality for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the letter said.

The signers included Rabbi Sharon Brous, of the independent IKAR congregation in  Los Angeles; Rabbi Amy Eilberg of Los Altos, California, the first women ordained by the Conservative movement; and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

In March, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, amended the Law of Entry to prevent leaders of the BDS movement from being allowed into Israel. The amendment applies to organizations, as well as the leadership and senior activists of those groups, that take consistent and significant action against Israel through BDS and threaten it with material harm.

JVP said at the time of the incident that it was the first time the amendment had been enforced before passengers boarded their flights to Israel and the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their support of BDS.

An anti-BDS bill making its way through Congress would expand existing law that bans boycotts imposed by foreign governments to include those imposed by international organizations like the European Union and the United Nations.

Roger Waters performing at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 6, 2012. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

A Video Message to Roger Waters


Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, one of the most prominent anti-Israel musicians in the United States, is due to perform in Washington, D.C. this Friday and Saturday (Aug. 4 and 5).

In response, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) is sending him a message in a five-figure media campaign in the form of a social media video.

According to its producers, the video is an effort to educate local Washingtonians on the ways Waters “uses music to divide people, rather than bring them together.”

For years the aging rock star has been an outspoken member of the BDS movement, which seeks to boycott the country, and sanction and divest from companies who do business there.

Waters doesn’t just refuse to perform in Israel, he criticizes and trolls other musicians who chose to perform on tour there.  On a recent Facebook Q & A, Waters has compared Israel to Nazi Germany.  

You can watch the video here:

Pro-BDS musician, Roger Waters, is performing in DC this weekend. Join the JCRC of Greater Washington to send a message to him to stop isolating Israel! Stop using music to divide! The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement will not bring peace. BDS is not the answer. More dialog, more respect, more music is the answer. Share to demand that Roger Waters stop advocating for BDS!#BDSFail #Israel

Posted by JCRC of Greater Washington on Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Palestinians pray on a street outside Jerusalem's Old City July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The anti-BDS act: What’s at stake for Democrats?


At the end of a week that was dominated by a virus (that’s why I wasn’t here for a few days), here are five comments on things I missed writing about since Monday:

1.

The Temple Mount crisis is in a short respite – not over. The specific tension that ignited the recent strife is calmed, but another round it all but inevitable. Why? Two reasons. 1. The Palestinians learned that Temple Mount serves them well, and can provide them with small victories. It is tempting to use such useful tool again. They will not be able to resist such a temptation. 2. Too many Israelis are displeased with the status quo and will keep working to weaken it. The record number of Jews that visited Temple Mount on Tisha BeAv is telling.

2.

The police might pull a decisive card in its investigation against Prime Minister Netanyahu, by having the PM’s former top aide Ari Harow as a state witness. Does this mean Netanyahu is doomed? There are two answers to this question: The answer of those convinced that Netanyahu is guilty, and that the only thing standing between him and a term in jail is a proper witness that could make his guiltiness official’ and he answer of those convinced that the investigation is a witch hunt, and that no witness can make a non-guilty person guilty.

What we do not know is this: Does Harow merely confirm the known facts– that is, he makes it even clearer that Netanyahu received many gifts from wealthy people – or does he contribute new facts to the mix, facts that make it impossible to argue that these were gifts and not bribe.

If it is all about gifts, the question will be one of interpretation: is it illegal for the PM to receive gifts, even many gifts, and is it an offense worthy of prosecution. If it is more than gifts – if someone can prove that Netanyahu was getting champagne in exchange for favors – that’s a whole different ball game.

3.

I understand why some people are furious with Jared Kushner and his sober comments on the Israeli-Palestinian process, but must say I find nothing objectionable about them. “We’re trying to follow very logically'” he said, “We’re thinking about what the right end state is, and we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future”.

Why are some people angry with Kushner? For two main reasons:

  1. One complaint is about tactics: Because Kushner was open, and a broker should be more discreet (tactics is the prerogative of the tactician, and maybe Kushner decided that honesty is what the peace process needs).
  2. One complaint is about content: Because Kushner is not certain there is a solution – and some people think they have a solution (it usually involves forcing Israel to do things that will put it at risk).

There is no reason to be angry with Kushner, but a follow-up question is due: if there is no solution, what should be the next step? What should it be for the parties themselves, and what role is the US supposed to play in the coming years of no solution?

4.

The anti-BDS bill is becoming an interesting test for Democrats in Congress. The ACLU opposes the bill, and some legislators seem nervous about it – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) removed her name from the bill, and my guess is that she will not be the last one to do so. New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan is already under pressure to do the same. And progressive Democrats will continue to exert such pressure on members whom they deem vulnerable to it.

What’s at stake? The simple explanation is that there are concerns about the bill and its impact on free speech. The real story is different: Elements on the left wing of the Democratic party oppose the bill because of their support of BDS. These elements wisely see this occasion as an opportunity to score a rare victory for BDS in the US, by torpedoing a highly visible bill. What needs to happen for them to succeed is simple: more Democrats must decide that the political price they will pay for shunning progressive pressure is higher than the price they will pay for shunning pro-Israel voters. In other words: the more Democrats decide not to support the bill, the more it becomes clear that Democratic legislators can no longer sustain the gap between what Democratic voters think about Israel, and how the party leaders vote on Israel.

5.

When it was still widely assumed that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, I wrote (in the New York Times) the following paragraph about the Democratic Party and Israel:

For relations between Israel and the Democrats to remain strong, one of two things needs to happen: Either Democrats’ attitudes and Israel’s policies must converge, or Democrats must become convinced that weakening support for Israel will come with a political price. Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Clinton will have to find out which it is to be, or else the drift will continue.

A year later – it continues.

 

 

From left: Jewish Voice for Peace organizer Alana Krio-Kaufman; Noah Habeeb, a Jewish Voice for Peace member and Tufts University graduate student; Shakeel Syed, a Los Angeles based Muslim activist and Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace come together for a delegation that was supposed to travel to Israel but was held up due to an Israeli law barring entry to supporters of the BDS movement. Courtesy of Jewish Voice for Peace

Local Muslim leader kept off flight to Israel for pro-BDS views


Los Angeles Muslim leader was among five individuals barred from boarding a flight to Israel on July 23, reportedly due to the interfaith delegation members’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Shakeel Syed, 56, a national board member of American Muslims for Palestine, told the Journal that he had his boarding pass in hand for the Lufthansa flight at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., when he was told he could not board the plane due to his being on a no-fly list provided by Israeli authorities.

The incident followed the enactment of a law in Israel in March enabling the Israeli interior minister to bar entry to foreigners or non-Israeli citizens who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

Speaking to the Journal on July 28 from Jerusalem — where he arrived using another airline he declined to identify — Syed said he was feeling “pretty rejected, pretty bummed, pretty disgusted.”

“I am extremely concerned and interested to know what the deal is and will try to pursue this,” he said.

Syed was traveling with a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Four others in the group also were not permitted to board: Rabbi Alissa Wise of Philadelphia, deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP); Alana Krivo-Kaufman of Brooklyn, a JVP organizer; Noah Habeeb of Virginia, a graduate student at Tufts University; and Rick Ufford-Chase of Rockland County, N.Y., a member of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Eighteen other members of the delegation boarded without incident, according to a July 24 statement from JVP.

“It is believed that this is the first time that the policy has been enforced before people even board their flight,” a JVP statement said. “It is also the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their political positions.”

On its website, American Muslims for Palestine described the purpose of the delegation to Israel as being to “increase awareness, spread grassroots support and to gain large-scale support for the successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.” A Chicago-based nonprofit established in 2005, the organization describes itself as a group committed to change in the Middle East. The Anti-Defamation League, however, has labeled it a leading anti-Zionist organization. 

The organizers of the delegation — JVP, American Muslims for Palestine and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship — openly support the BDS movement, which protests the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Critics of the movement say it is anti-Semitic and seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel.

Syed said he has contacted his congresswoman, Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, about the incident, as well as both of California’s U.S. Senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

A Muslim activist from India, Syed has been in Los Angeles for 25 years. He is the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which operates a prisoner outreach service and a Muslim speakers network.

Syed participated in an April interfaith protest in which more than 30 people were arrested at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in downtown Los Angeles to call attention to the treatment of undocumented immigrants.

BDS protesters at Columbia University.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions of free speech: Against the anti-BDS bill


Freedom of speech is an unquestioned birthright for Americans, and it is among the principles we feel most strongly about modeling for the rest of the world. The recent attempts by the Trump administration to curtail freedom of the press has many on both the left and the right justifiably up in arms at the assault on one of the founding ideals of our nation. So it comes as a political sucker punch that 43 senators on both sides of the aisle have come together to support a bill that clearly intends to chill Americans’ right to peacefully protest.

The bill, S720, co-authored by Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), titled the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, would expand the existing criminalization of U.S. corporations that participate in foreign-led boycotts against American allies to also include boycotts that originate from the United Nations. The title and key proponents of the bill, AIPAC chief among them, clearly intend it as a defense against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes Israeli occupation of the West Bank. As others have noted, the U.N. actually never called for a commercial boycott of Israel, and instead only urged companies in 2016 to “avoid, identify, assess and address any adverse human rights impacts related to their activities.” In other words, this bill purports to offer a solution for a problem that does not exist.

That this legislation offers no concrete policy solutions only makes the fervent support of its passage all the more troubling. Whether the bill actually criminalizes the right of individual Americans to participate in BDS (and the vagueness of potential interpretations should itself be a red flag), the message is clear: Americans should think twice before exercising their constitutionally protected free speech. No matter what we may think about the merits or motivations behind the BDS movement, we should be able to agree that the decision of how Americans choose to use their wallets should be left entirely up to them.

S720 not only betrays basic American values of freedom of speech, it also diminishes America’s already battered moral standing on the world stage by making the hypocrisy of our Middle East policy crystal clear. The United States has long desired to be a beacon of functional democracy and freedom , and an alternative model to the type of despotic tyranny that plagues the region. Yet with the passage of this bill, we would send the exact opposite message to the world, that the peaceful critique of a nation’s policies should in itself be a reprehensible and potentially criminal act. If President Donald Trump were to propose a domestic abridgement of free speech of this magnitude (not so far-fetched a scenario in the age of presidential smears against our free press), the majority of those same senators supporting this deeply flawed legislation would rightfully oppose such an action with every moral fiber of their being.

But this bill follows a disturbing pattern of the double standard that is applied to nonviolent protests by marginalized communities. Many on the right (and even some on the left) have criticized the Black Lives Matter movement as “violent,” suggesting that nonviolent protests would be more palatable to get their point across. Yet when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is African-American, knelt during the national anthem, he was criticized for being “combative” and “unpatriotic.” Likewise, the BDS movement is entirely peaceful, noncombative and (one could argue because it uses capital to achieve its goals) a most American form of protest. But by targeting these forms of expression, the Senate is leaving those who support the movement few options for lawful dissent.

This bill is so far removed from traditional American values that even J Street, a perennial critic of the BDS movement, has condemned it in a statement saying that it would “undermine decades of U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bolster the settlement enterprise and harm the prospects for a two-state solution.” The statement goes on to recommend that Senators “consult with free speech experts on possible Constitutional concerns with the bill.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and specifically the issue of the West Bank — is complex, and reasonable people can disagree about solutions and strategies. But no good has ever come from criminalizing peaceful protest, whether through substance or intent, or the exercise of free speech, and it will not be any different in this case. As long as we continue speaking to one another and making our opinions heard, there always is a chance to find common ground.


Salam Al-Marayati is the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Photo from Wikipedia

BDS activists prevented from boarding flight to Israel


Five members of an interfaith delegation to Israel were prevented from boarding their flight from Washington, D.C., reportedly due to their activism on behalf of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The Jewish Voice for Peace organization said in a statement Monday that the delegation tried to check into its Lufthansa flight at Dulles International Airport, only to be told that the Israeli government had ordered the airline not to let the five passengers aboard.

In March, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, amended the Law of Entry to prevent leaders of the BDS movement from being allowed into Israel. The amendment applies to organizations that take consistent and significant action against Israel through BDS, as well as the leadership and senior activists of those groups.

Lufthansa spokesman Tal Muscal confirmed that the delegation members were not allowed to fly per the Israeli government’s request. Lufthansa was not made aware of the reason for the order.

Muscal said the airline must obey government requests like these to block passengers from boarding flights.

“We don’t know who these people are,” Muscal told JTA. “We have no information as to why the Israeli government does not want them to enter. We simply have to abide by the rules and regulations of every country in which we operate.”

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the incident.

Three of the activists were from JVP, including a rabbi. The other two delegation members prevented from boarding the flight were Rick Ufford Chase of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in Rockland County, New York, and Shakeel Syed, a national board member with American Muslims for Palestine in Los Angeles.

The other 18 participants with the Interfaith Network for Justice in Palestine delegation arrived Monday morning in Israel and were allowed to enter after several hours of detention and questioning, according to JVP.

JVP states on its website that it supports boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

“Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi,” Rabbi Alissa Wise said in the JVP statement. “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.

Syed said in the statement that he had his boarding pass in hand when “the Lufthansa representative informed me that they had a direct order from ‘Israeli immigration authorities’ to not allow us to board the plane. Furthermore, they refused to even show us the Israeli order.”

JVP said it is believed to be the first time that the amendment has been enforced before passengers boarded their flights to Israel and the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their support of BDS.

Following the passage of the Entry Law amendment, several groups that promote BDS planned to organize delegations to come to Israel and test the boundaries of the amendment.

An anti-BDS bill making its way through Congress would expand existing law that bans boycotts imposed by foreign governments to include those imposed by international organizations like the European Union and the United Nations.

A protester being removed by campus police at the University of California, Irvine, after he disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, who was then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Feb. 8, 2010. Photo from JTA

We’re not talking about BDS on campus, so why are you?


Dear Jewish community,

So you wanna understand Israel-Palestine debates on campus?

The first thing you have to do is stop talking about BDS.

Shocking, right? We try.

But really, the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel isn’t what Israel conversations on campus are all about these days. Campaigns to pass BDS measures on major campuses are actually in decline, yet somehow they still make up the bulk of Jewish news about students.

The truth is, divestment proposals happen perennially, people freak out for two to three weeks, and then students on all sides return to lives of calculus, life pondering, activism and 3 a.m. pizza.

So if we shouldn’t be talking about BDS, what should we be talking about?

Anti-normalization. Because it creates a fascinatingly complex new landscape for Jewish students, who are both on its receiving end and active participants.

If you know what I’m talking about, skip this paragraph, wise one. If you don’t, anti-normalization is an idea, popular on the left, that some beliefs are so untenable you cannot allow them to be left unprotested and accepted as normal. That means calling attention to their proponents at the very least and having a zero-tolerance policy at most.

The things-not-to-normalize list includes no-brainers like racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia. It also often includes Zionism.

That means pro-Palestinian activism on campus looks different these days – because all activism looks different. Instead of boycotts, a more frequent form of campus organizing is protesting at and disrupting Israel-related events.

A brief history: One of the earliest instances of interrupting Zionist speakers on campus happened at the University of California, Irvine, in 2010, when students disrupted a speech by former Israel ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. In 2015, the same thing happened to former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak at the same school and Israeli philosophy professor Moshe Halbertal at the University of Minnesota. In 2016, it was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at San Francisco State University.

What recently happened at the Chicago Dyke March is also a prime example. Women marching with what march organizers saw as Zionist flags could not be allowed to stay because that would be letting Zionism go unchallenged.

What does this mean?

For what it’s worth, speaker shutdowns and event protests don’t make us special. If you follow campus news, these are happening everywhere to all kinds of speakers, from controversial scholar Charles Murray at Middlebury College in Vermont to conservative commentator Anne Coulter and “alt-right” provocateur (read: troll) Milo Yiannopoulis at the University of California, Berkeley.

But anti-normalization does mean Jewish students, particularly Zionists, are tackling a whole new host of questions on campus: Do left-leaning Zionists have a place on the campus left? And if only non-Zionist Jewish students find acceptance on the left, is the campus left tokenizing Jewish students, deciding who’s a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew” from outside our community?

Pro-Palestinian activism on campus looks different these days — because all activism looks different.

What does it mean to Jewish students that Zionist speakers are considered indefensible alongside alt-right speakers? Are Zionist students and pro-Palestinian activists defining Zionism the same way?

Pro-Israel activists, meanwhile, are arguably already engaging in their own form of anti-normalization rhetoric and have been for a long time. One could even argue that Jews were anti-normalization pioneers. When anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist remarks on campus are labeled “hate speech,” that’s our community declaring ideas too unconscionable to be expressed without protest. Jewish outcry over Linda Sarsour speaking at CUNY is only one recent example. Right-wing Jewish organizations, like the AMCHA Initiative or Canary Mission, marked speakers, professors and student leaders as too reprehensible for campus before it was cool.

Whatever term you want to use, this isn’t just a leftist movement, and Jewish students across the political spectrum are experiencing it and are a part of it.

We can argue endlessly about whether anti-normalization is good or bad – and we are. Questions about this concept are at the core of today’s most fraught campus debates. Does declaring ideas unredeemable limit free speech? Or does it marginalize systemic societal ills? Who decides the parameters, and when are they too broad?

I cannot answer any of these questions. (That’s a different, much longer article.)

But I can call on our community to recognize them. It’s time we see the anti-normalization forest through the BDS trees. Because until we do, we’re missing out on the juicy stuff – the larger debates happening on campus and the real questions Jewish students are asking themselves.


Sara Weissman, editor@newvoices.org, is the editor in chief of New Voices, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Roger Waters performing at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 6, 2012. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Roger Waters concert on Long Island violates anti-BDS law, lawmaker says


Allowing BDS proponent Roger Waters to perform at a Long Island arena violates a local law against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a Nassau County lawmaker said.

Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, is scheduled to appear at the Nassau Coliseum on Sept. 15 and 16.

The lawmaker, Howard Kopel, asked the county attorney last week to determine whether the Nassau Coliseum lease requires compliance with the county law adopted in May 2016 that prevents the county from doing business with any company that participates in the economic boycott of Israel.

Kopel, an Orthodox Jewish legislator who represents a district with a large Jewish population, said in a Facebook post that the Waters concert violates the anti-BDS law while calling the musician a “notorious front-man for the BDS movement and virulent anti-semite.”

On May 22, 2016 I was proud that Nassau County signed into Law a piece of Legislation that I sponsored, taking a stand…

Posted by Legislator Howard J. Kopel on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In a Facebook Live chat Saturday with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Waters said he would play his shows in Nassau, saying an artist’s rights should not be attacked over his stand on an issue.

“I think they’re gonna fail,” Waters said of attempts to prevent him from playing in Nassau County. “I don’t think, I know they are, because you would have to tear up the Constitution of the United States of America, particularly the First Amendment, and throw it into the Hudson River, or the East River if that’s closer, in order for that to happen.”

Waters also noted an incident in Miami last week in which a dozen teens from a Miami Beach Parks summer program who were to perform on stage with him backed out amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier told the Miami Herald on Thursday, hours before the scheduled concert, that the teens would not be participating, saying in a statement, “Miami Beach is a culturally diverse community and does not tolerate any form of hate.”

The Greater Miami Jewish Federation in an online ad on the Miami Herald website posted a link to a statement on its website reading, “Mr. Waters, your vile messages of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and hatred are not welcome in this community.”

Waters is embroiled in a controversy with Radiohead after he publicly called on the band to cancel its Wednesday concert in Tel Aviv.

Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

Congress urges Trump to appoint a Jewish liaison


Several members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump to continue a 40-year tradition by immediately appointing a White House liaison to the American Jewish community.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“While it is still early in your term, increased anti-Semitism in the United States, the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and persecution of religious minorities across the globe create an urgent need for a designated point of contact to work with and provide outreach to the American Jewish community,” Representatives Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) wrote in a bipartisan letter addressed to the President.

Trump has continued to blame the Democratic Party congressional leadership for the slow pace of filling vacancies in administration posts, calling them “obstructionists.” In this instance, however, the House Members note that the position does not require Senate confirmation.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, two Trump confidants, served as Trump’s unofficial representatives to the Jewish community and advisors on Israel and Jewish-related matters. Friedman has since been appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Greenblatt is serving as special envoy to the Middle East and White House Special Representative for International Negotiations.

“On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, you declared in the Capitol Rotunda that you ‘will always stand with the Jewish people.’ We respectfully encourage you to follow through on this commitment and appoint the best person you believe would serve in this role,” the Representatives concluded.

“People are policy,” Matt Nosanchuk, a former White House liaison under President Barack Obama, told Jewish Insider. “Which roles are filled and by whom and at what level speaks volumes about as to whether an administration is committed to engaging on particular policy issues with specific communities.”

The challenge of serving as the President’s representative to the Jewish community is “trying to accommodate all of the different interests and voices in a diverse Jewish American community that is not shy about sharing its views,” Tevi Troy, who served as White House Jewish liaison in President George W. Bush’s first term, told Jewish Insider. “For a Jewish liaison in a Republican White House, an additional challenge is that the community as a whole is Democratic territory. This does not, of course, apply to the Orthodox community, where GOP liaisons are on friendlier turf, and where Democratic liaisons face more of an uphill battle.”

“This administration seems to be doing something that is making some parts of the American Jewish community happy, but other parts feel like they don’t have anybody they could call,” Jarrod Bernstein, the liaison during Obama’s reelection, explained the importance of having somebody who focuses on the Jewish community in a full-time position. “You have to worry about the people who don’t agree with you politically and making sure that they feel they have an open door. That’s where having a dedicated Jewish liaison is really important.”

However, according to Noam Neusner, another former White House Jewish liaison for President Bush, filling this position is not a matter of urgency. Instead, he advised the signatories of the bipartisan letter to “work with their colleagues in the Senate to assure a speedy confirmation of nominees for far more important positions – especially positions that are essential to America’s global leadership, prosperity and security.”

Nosanchuck, who held the Jewish liaison position for nearly three years during Obama’s second term, noted, “Appointing someone does not obviate stark policy differences, and many of this White House’s most important priorities, on economic, climate, and social welfare and social justice issues, are way out of line with the priorities of the overwhelming majority of American Jews. No Trump Jewish liaison is going to bridge that divide.”

Read the full letter below:

Dear Mr. President:

We write to encourage you to continue the forty-year tradition of appointing a White House liaison to the Jewish community. While it is still early in your term, increased anti-Semitism in the United States, the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and persecution of religious minorities across the globe create an urgent need for a designated point of contact to work with and provide outreach to the American Jewish community.

Previous Presidents have appointed White House Jewish liaisons, and these individuals served as valuable intermediaries between the wider Jewish community and the President and his staff. Many past liaisons worked to foster Middle East peace, combat anti-Semitism, strengthen the US-Israel relationship, promote interfaith dialogue, and celebrate Jewish-American heritage on the national stage. You have expressed a strong commitment to defending our ally, the eternal Jewish State of Israel, and specifically designating a Jewish liaison would make it known to American Jews that you stand with them and care about their priorities. We understand that this position does not require a nominee subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, removing a significant barrier in selecting a qualified individual to serve in this role.

On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, you declared in the Capitol Rotunda that you “will always stand with the Jewish people.” We respectfully encourage you to follow through on this commitment and appoint the best person you believe would serve in this role.

Sincerely,

Jacky Rosen, Lee Zeldin, Stephanie Murphy, Doug Lamborn

Roger Waters has been a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign within the cultural arena. He has lobbied countless artists to refuse to perform in Israel, while publicly criticizing others for doing so.

Wish You Weren’t Here Roger Waters


Boycott of Waters Launched With Petition, Website and Film

A group calling itself “We Don’t Need no Roger Waters” are calling for a boycott of musician Roger Waters. The Change.org petition wants a worldwide boycott of Waters until he renounces antisemitism and the unjust boycott of the State of Israel. The group has launched a website and Facebook page, and will be releasing a movie this summer.

The former frontman for Pink Floyd has increasingly used his rock-star status to defame and call for the boycott of Israel. He infamously flew a pig drone painted with swastikas and Stars of David at his concerts in 2013. Waters screens anti-Israel film clips during his live shows and viciously attacks any artist that chooses to perform in Israel.

Waters isn’t just anti-Israel, say his detractors, he’s actually a Jew-hater. They are firing back against his supporters by countering that Waters is not just anti-Israel, but actually a racist who espouses bigotry and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

According to the filmmakers, “Wish You Weren’t Here is a shocking, explosive and compelling film by award winning filmmaker/No.1 NY Times bestselling author Ian Halperin.” The film sets out to answer such questions as is Roger Waters an anti-Semite?

Halperin, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, traveled for two years researching his story, and the film includes interviews with leading figures such as including Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, Haras Rafiq, Palestinian and Israeli leaders, U.S., British and French government officials, The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Alan Dershowitz and Dr. Charles Small.

Instead of using music to build bridges and foster peace, it seems that Waters is actually another brick in the wall.

 

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

Jordan’s anti-Israel rhetoric on rise despite security cooperation


The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which Israel fought against Jordan and other Arab states, is showing how much has changed in the Israel-Jordan relationship.

Since 1994, the two countries have had an official peace treaty, and over the years, security cooperation has deepened. Ties between their armies are close, and they share an interest in preventing unrest in the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence officials say the security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Jordan and Israel are stronger than ever. They count this cooperation as one of the strongest weapons in Israel’s arsenal and say it is crucial for both countries’ stability.

At the same time, however, popular sentiment in Jordan against cooperation with Israel is rising. Last month, a delegation of sheikhs from various tribes visited Israel, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin, whose father was one of the first to translate the Quran, the Muslim holy book, from Arabic into Hebrew and was an Islamic scholar.

The sheikhs spent five days touring Israel and meeting religious figures. When they returned, they encountered an outcry against them and their visit to Israel in the mainstream media and on social media. That anger intensified after two incidents — the first, when Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker after he stabbed an Israeli policeman; the second, when Israeli troops in September shot a Jordanian tourist who tried to carry out a knife attack.

“There is a clear increase in anger and support for anti-normalization,” said Mohammed Husainy, the director of the Identity Center in Jordan.

Anti-normalization means opposition to cooperation with Israel in any field. It is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli government and Israeli citizens. For example, BDS has tried to prevent pop stars from giving concerts anywhere in Israel, not only in the West Bank.

After Israel and Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994, Israeli tourists began to flock to Jordan, especially to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Jordanians began to visit Israel, although mostly to see relatives in the West Bank and to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Some Israeli analysts say that King Abdullah allows the anti-Israel rhetoric as a way for Jordanians to blow off steam.

“The Jordanian regime maneuvers between its need to cooperate with Israel and to address the sentiment of the population,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor at Tel Aviv University. “They do allow anti-Israel rhetoric in the media and at the popular level whenever there is a small incident.”

The situation is similar to that of Egypt, the other country with which Israel has a formal peace treaty. Although security cooperation is close, most Egyptians are vehemently anti-Israel. 

Egypt, Jordan and Israel have similar security concerns and all want to eliminate the terror threat from ISIS, which also has killed dozens of Egyptian police in the Sinai. All three countries see a nuclear Iran as a potential threat.

Most analysts say that in the long run, the common security interests will continue to overshadow the public anger at Israel. 

Roger Waters performing at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 6, 2012. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Roger Waters: ‘I have made every effort to engage’ with Radiohead on BDS


Roger Waters said he personally reached out to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke requesting that the band cancel its upcoming show in Israel.

Waters, the Pink Floyd bassist who is a leading proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, responded Monday to an interview Yorke gave to Rolling Stone last week in which he objected to an open letter, co-written by Waters, urging the band to cancel the July show.

“The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that’s black or white,” Yorke said. “I have a problem with that. It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public.”

Waters says that isn’t what happened. In a statement to Rolling Stone, Rogers says he sent three emails to Yorke before publishing the open letter. Waters’ statement says Yorke responded to the first email, but not the second. Whether he replied to the third is unclear.

“On February 12th, hoping to start a dialogue, I sent an email expressing my concern about Radiohead crossing the BDS picket line to perform in Israel,” Waters said. “A few hours later, Thom replied. He was angry. He had misinterpreted my attempt to start a conversation as a threat. So I tried again … I didn’t hear back. So silence prevailed for three weeks until March 4th when I sent a long heartfelt entreaty to Thom asking him again to talk.”

In his interview, Yorke said Radiohead will perform because the band doesn’t agree with BDS and the effort to cut off cultural contact with Israel. “It’s offensive and I just can’t understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them],” Yorke said.

Waters didn’t directly address Yorke’s objections in his statement, saying that BDS “exists to shine a light on the predicament of the occupied people of Palestine, both in Palestine and those displaced abroad, and to promote equal civil rights for all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea no matter what their nationality, race or religion.”

Screenshot from Sears.com

Sears website offers clothing with slogan calling to ‘Free Palestine’


Clothing with slogans calling to “Free Palestine End Israeli Occupation” are for sale on the Sears website.

[UPDATE: Sears to pull ‘Free Palestine’ clothing from site amid complaints]

The clothing is being offered for sale by another company, Spreadshirt Collection, and includes tank tops, and t-shirts and hoodies featuring a variety of pro-Palestinian messages. The garments are being sold through Sears Marketplace, which offers a platform for third-party sellers to offer their wares through websites managed by Sears.

The availability of the designs was first reported by Reuters.

The designs include a clenched fist in the colors of the Palestinian flag and statements opposing the Israeli occupation.

In a statement on its website, the Germany-based Spreadshirt Collection calls itself a “global platform for personalized clothing and accessories, we are the go-to-place for anyone looking to realize their creative ideas on quality fabrics. We value freedom of expression, whether it’s with your own designs or those made available by our community.”

The company’s code of responsibility says that it does not print things that are “bound to offend people.”

“Just like with other things in democracy, there are natural limits to our freedom of expression. We do not print things that are bound to offend people, e.g. pornographic material and content designed to insult and discriminate against genders or religious and ethnic groups. We won’t print anything that’s not right and fair. Above all, a code of ethics applies. This implies that we do not condone any designs displaying hate and contempt for others,” the statement says.

Elsewhere on its site, the company says that it values free expression. “Therefore, we print almost all designs sent to us whether we, as a company or personally, like them or not.”

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Debating the BDS movement’s immorality


If the Jewish people ever needed an icon for their sworn enemies, a litmus test that distinguishes those who oppose the core of Israel’s existence from those who have other reasons to criticize the Jewish state, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has given it to us. It has managed to galvanize the Jewish community into an unprecedented wave of unity in opposition to this threat.

A May 22 debate sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union was unique, in that the issue was not the effects of BDS actions but the morality of their aims. I took part in this debate, and I would like to share with readers a summary of my arguments. What follows is an edited version of my remarks:

Dear Friends,

I have not spoken to this debate club before, and I am glad to do so on this occasion because I see it as a historic moment.

For more than 10 years now, we have been witnessing BDS supporters roaming the campus with their megaphones and slander machines, accusing Israel of every imaginable crime, from apartheid to child molesting — accusing, accusing and accusing.

Today, for the first time in the history of UCLA, we see BDS itself on the accused bench, with its deceitful tactics, immoral ideology and anti-peace stance brought to trial.

It is a historic moment.

BDS is not a new phenomenon; it is a brainchild of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who in April 1936 started the Arab Rejectionist movement (under the auspices of the Arab Higher Committee), and the first thing he did was to launch a boycott of Jewish agricultural products and a general strike against Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine from war-bound Europe.

The 1936 manifesto of the rejectionist movement was very similar to what BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti presented here at UCLA on Jan. 15, 2014. It was brutal in its simplicity: Jews are not entitled to any form of self-determination in any part of Palestine, not even the size of a postage stamp — end of discussion!

Here is where BDS earns its distinct immoral character: denying one people rights to a homeland, rights that are granted to all others. This amounts to discrimination based on national identity, which in standard English vocabulary would be labeled “bigotry,” if not “racism.”

This rejectionist ideology has dominated the Arab mindset from 1936 to this very day — BDS is only its latest symptom. It explains why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spends so much time at UNESCO trying to erase Jewish history, why Palestinian children sing “There is no such thing as Israel,” and why their hosts and educators on official Palestinian TV applaud them with “Bravo! Bravo!” It also explains why the Israeli peace camp has such a hard time convincing the majority of Israelis that despite what they see without end in Palestinian schools, there still are some partners for peace among the Palestinians.

The mufti’s boycott of 1936 scored one major “victory” for the Palestinians. The British government succumbed to mass Arab unrest and prevented European Jewish refugees from entering Palestine. My grandparents were among those seeking refuge; they perished in Auschwitz in 1942.

This, ironically, was the last victory of Arab rejectionism. For eight decades, rejectionism has led the Palestinian people from one disaster to another. It led them to reject a Palestinian state in 1937 and 1947; it drove them to attack Israel in 1948, with the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) as a consequence; it led them to reject land-for-peace proposals in Khartoum in 1967, which gave rise to the settlement movement; and it prevented them from accepting any of the peace offers made since. Rejectionism negates the very notion of “end of conflict.”

Today, rejectionism is the No. 1 obstacle to Palestinian statehood. The total absence of peace education in Palestinian schools and media gives Israelis fairly good reasons to question the ability of Palestinian leadership to honor any peace agreement, however favorable. No country can come to life that openly seeks the elimination of its neighbor.

Back to the moral side of rejectionism. In 2014, BDS’ Barghouti stood here at UCLA and proclaimed, “Jews are not a people, and the U.N. principle to self-determination does not apply to them.” Barghouti made no effort to hide the racist foundations of BDS ideology, but we should keep them in mind as we consider the question before us tonight: Is BDS moral?

I would like to move now from the history of Zionophobic rejectionism to its current aims and tactics. The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide their real purpose. In every conversation with them, they admit their ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, and surely not to promote peace or coexistence, but to delegitimize Israel in the international arena, isolate her, and eventually bring about her collapse.

What most people fail to realize is that BDS is not interested in boycotting, either, because it knows a boycott cannot achieve any meaningful level of success. Show me one respectable university that would go along with this childish, anti-academic idea. Indeed, 150 university presidents came out immediately in opposition to boycott. And just last week, we saw all 50 U.S. governors deploring BDS as “incompatible with American values.” Not just “academic values” but “American values.”

So, if not boycott, what are they trying to achieve on campus? The idea is to bombard university campuses with an endless stream of proposals for anti-Israel resolutions. The charges may vary from season to season, the authors may rotate, and it matters not whether a resolution passes or fails, nor whether it is condemned or hailed. The victory lies in having a stage, a microphone and a finger pointing at Israel, saying, “On trial.” It is only a matter of time before innocent students, mostly the gullible and uninformed, start chanting, “On trial.” The effect will be felt when these students graduate and become the next generation of American policymakers. A more immediate goal, of course, is bullying pro-coexistence voices into silence.

A common hypocrisy among BDS advocates is to present themselves to new audiences as seekers of universal justice, while whitewashing or downplaying their ultimate goal of putting an end to Israel. They even coined fancy names for that end: “one-state solution” or “a state for all its citizens”— a delusional setting of wolves protecting sheep to the sound of progressive slogans, totally oblivious to Middle East realities. Noam Chomsky, a staunch critic of Israel, called this strategy of BDS “hypocrisy crying to heaven.” And Norman Finkelstein, not a warmer friend of Israel, called it “a hypocritical dishonest cult led by dishonest gurus.”

Maintaining this dishonesty, however, is crucial for BDS survival; any attempt to distance itself from the goal of eliminating Israel would cost BDS its vital support base among Palestinians.

I believe everyone would like to find out from BDS supporters how peace can emerge between two partners, one insisting on seeing the other dead and the other insisting on staying alive, no matter how glamorous the coffin.

Leaving behind this logical impossibility, I believe we should strive for a more realistic vision of peace: two states for two peoples, equally legitimate and equally indigenous.

And we must start with the latter.


JUDEA PEARL is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Demonstrators protesting outside the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona, Oct. 20, 2015. Photo by Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

BDS, back to front


The BDS phenomenon is not new.

Prior to Israel’s declaration in 1948, a boycott was initiated in 1882 against the Jews of Europe.

The sole purpose was to isolate and destroy their social, economic and intellectual lives as advocated by the Anti-Jewish Congress in Dresden 1882. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the slogan “Don’t buy from Jews” was deemed illegal, so they changed their slogan to “Buy from Christians only.”

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Nazi guards stood in front of Jewish shops and offices of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and engineers, denying entry and assaulting their clients.

The Polish government followed suit. Occasionally these boycotts ended in pogroms such as at Przytyk. The boycotts went hand in hand with the government’s encouragement of Jewish emigration. Clergy like the priest Stojalkowski publicly supported the boycotts, not unlike Bishop Tutu and some other churches that today promote the boycott of the Jewish State.

The Arab League started a boycott of “Jewish products and manufactured goods” in 1945 which was formalised in 1948 with the establishment of the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office in Damascus. The boycott was total and included blacklisting of firms that did business with other firms doing business with Israel.

Thus, companies such as British Aerospace, Shell, BP and major banks, joined Germany’s Telefunken, BASF and Siemens in complying with the boycott. Norwich Union Insurance Society dropped Lord Mancroft, a Jew, and former government minister, from its Board of Directors.

All of this prior to the occupation.

In 1977, Congress prohibited US companies from complying with the Arab boycott. Most countries however continued to comply.

In 2001, the anti-Israel BDS movement was formed to isolate and ultimately destroy Israel, since wars were unsuccessul. The boycott extended to academia and entertainment. Thus, Tutu tried to block the Cape Town Ballet from performing in Tel Aviv and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd continues to pressurise entertainers from visiting Israel.

Many BDS supporters maintain that they only boycott West Bank products. However in my conversations with such people, they admit to boycotting all Israeli products as they ”cannot be sure if these products might be linked in some way to the West Bank.” An Israeli soldier in Ma’ale Adumim eating an ice cream manufactured in Tel Aviv would be such a link.

The fact that many computer, cell phone, bio-medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, IT security, water and clean energy technologies were developed in Israel is an inconvenient fact and makes these selective BDS advocates hypocritically absurd.

BDS advocates use Israeli products each day.

Yet there is a case for BDS.

The same EU countries that uniquely insist on “Occupied West Bank” labels for Israeli products, rushed to sign huge deals with Iran that has one of the highest execution rates in the world. In 2014, Bishop Tutu, together with Kofi Annan, visited Iran, grinning in photo ops with their leaders. They praised arch terrorist and “Death to America and Israel” supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Their visit occurred during a “normal” fortnight of about 40 executions that included Iranian poet Hashem Shabaani.

If Tutu, academics, entertainers and BDS leaders like Mohamed Desai in South Africa who goose stepped in front of Jewish students and wrote that “Hitler was right in what he did,” have a need to BDS, they should focus on the Palestinian leadership.

The PA violates the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Child Soldiers Protocol.

Activists need to BDS the Palestinian leadership that ruthlessly exploits and abuses children who are rewarded to kill Jews.

They need to BDS the PA that praises suicide bombers as young as 13. Some 160-plus small children as young as 7, have been crushed to death, forced to build Hamas terror tunnels with their tiny bodies.

The criminal Palestinian leadership has trashed the aspirations and dreams of an entire generation.

They need to BDS the PA for the ongoing honor killings of women which violate the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Instead, Norway, whose trade unions support the BDS, paid for the Palestinian Women’s Centre, named after Dalal Mughrabi who murdered 38 Israelis.

Gays flee for their lives to Israel. In Gaza they are punished by being thrown off the tops of buildings. Journalists, human rights activists and critics are tortured in jail—another good reason to BDS.

Activists need to BDS President Abbas in the 12th year of his 4-year presidency who cannot account for billions of dollars that disappeared. The Palestinians receive more aid than any other cause in history, including post-war Germany which worked hard to rebuild itself.

Abbas the multi-millionaire refugee leader cries all the way to the bank having made victimhood into a lucrative business.

Munib al Masri, worth some $5 billion, enjoyed a close bond with Arafat, and lives an opulent lifestyle outside Nablus. This “refugee,” supports the BDS against Israel.

Another BDS target could be Jibril Rajoub, jailed for terrorism, who continues to encourage the kidnapping and killing of Israelis on PA TV. He also said, that had the Palestinians obtained nuclear weapons they would use them.

Rajoub, who criticised the proposed minute’s silence for the murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, heads the Palestine Football Association and Palestine Olympic Committee.

BDS advocates need to focus on the Palestinian leaders whose terrorism led to thousands of checkpoints in airports around the world. Thanks to them, toothpaste tubes are confiscated and millions experience the humiliation of having to hold up their pants while clutching their belongings after their jackets, shoes and belts were removed.

The ruling CDU party in Germany has deemed the BDS campaign to be antisemitic, reminiscent of their Nazi past. Spain, France, and all 50 states in the USA have legislated against the BDS.

BDS activists who need a cause, should therefore rather focus on the murderous kleptocracy, the PA.

One of the Ten Commandments states,”Thou shalt not steal.” This also applies to stealing the truth.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow of the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism and the author of the satirical novel,”The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

Royce Hall at UCLA

BDS debate at UCLA breaks no new ground


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saree Makdisi

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

Then, he really got the audience’s attention when he blurted out these words: “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knows all of that.

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

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

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

That’s why, for 1,900 years, Jews from all over the world yearned to return home to Zion and Jerusalem. That’s why the Zionist movement fought so hard for the rebirth of the Jewish state — because the Jewish experience of being a vulnerable minority in a hostile land is not one we want to relive.

When Makdisi suggested that Jews should become dhimmis again in their own country, he confessed what the BDS movement is really about — and it isn’t very moral.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish lobbying group takes message to Sacramento


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Train public defenders on immigration rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cal State Long Beach, UCSB differ on Israel divestment resolutions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.

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

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

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

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

Conoley was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

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

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

Goodman was not immediately available for an interview on Thursday.

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

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

Dartmouth’s fraudulent choice of Bruce Duthu


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Ed Asner, and Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just want peace,” he said.

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

Ridiculous.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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