Senators introduce bipartisan anti-BDS bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate bill to protect states countering BDS

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs state anti-BDS law

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The legislation, which prohibits the state from contracting with companies that engage in boycotts of Israel, including firms located outside the state, and also requires companies to explicitly state in contracts that they are not boycotting or divesting, was signed Monday. It makes Ohio the 14th state to enact such a law.

“With Governor Kasich’s signature, Ohio becomes the latest state to stand up against the discrimination based on national origin inherent in efforts to boycott, divest or sanction Israel. It’s also a stand in support of free trade and academic freedom,” Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, which represents eight Jewish federations and their constituent agencies, said in a statement.

The bill also included language that will increase from 1 percent to 2 percent the amount of funds the state treasurer or country treasurers are allowed to invest in foreign bonds meeting specified criteria, including Israel Bonds.

“But Ohio went a step further than anyone else. They included an opportunity for positive investment by the state and county treasurers in certain foreign bonds — including Israel’s — allowing our state to stand with Israel in a meaningful way, helping to create even more business, trade, and research opportunities,” Beigelman noted.

As BDS resolutions stall, pro-Palestinian students shift tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor Brown should veto flawed BDS law

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

[OPPOSITION: In support of AB 2844]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-Palestinian activists now interrupting “>

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

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

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

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

[RELATED: UCLA’s betrayal of Milan Chatterjee]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCLA: No place for Jews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What football can teach us about Israel education

Imagine a quarterback who had to run every play through a gaggle of coaches, agents, broadcasters, analysts, advertisers, fans and peanut vendors. Crazy, right? You don’t have to be a Vegas bookie to know that regardless of the talent on the field, this is not a winning strategy for success. Yet, across America, Jewish institutions routinely do just that with their Israel education initiatives. With more than a decade of classroom experience teaching Israel to high school students, I’m going to suggest something you might find hard to hear. The 400-pound linebacker blitzing up the middle of your child’s Israel education isn’t the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, or Bibi, it’s you. 

There is hardly another subject area in which people outside of the classroom feel so comfortable influencing what, when, how and by whom it can be taught to our students. The result is that too many Israel educators are put in the unenviable position of the quarterback trying to scramble around a host of competing interests and hidden agendas that have less to do with Israel and more to do with internal community politics.

Outside interference in Israel education manifests itself in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. It may come from a donor or board member who suggests that a certain outside speaker give a presentation on Israel to the students. Or from the parent who complains to the head of school that a lesson was too political, or the other parent who constantly floods your inbox with articles and Facebook posts hinting (in ALL CAPS, of course) that these email chains become required classroom reading. Not wanting to be left out of the action is the well-intentioned colleague who suggests that you avoid entire topics because the issues are too complex or controversial for the students to comprehend.

What these examples and many more like them all have in common is that important educational decisions are being made by people outside of the classroom, all of whom lack the content knowledge and experience necessary to make sound pedagogical decisions about how to best provide students with the Israel education they deserve. Just like in sports, sharing an end-goal isn’t a license for Monday morning quarterbacking. It doesn’t work when your child is playing a team sport, and it won’t work with Israel education. As American Jewry begins to address the issue of Israel engagement among our youth, it is important to consider the negative impact of the “everyone’s an expert” approach to Israel education.

Every year, it seems, the establishment has a theme for speakers to promote. One year it is “startup nation” and the wonders of Waze, another it’s all about water innovation. Although  inviting guest speakers to pitch the latest version of “Hey kids, did you know that Israel invented …?” may make a good photo op for the school newsletter, optics must never be confused with good education. When it comes to Israel, students don’t need to be lectured from the sidelines. Authentic engagement and real learning requires students to get in the game so they can apply their knowledge, critical thinking skills and Jewish values to the important Zionist issues of their generation. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Israel educators is the growing politicization of Israel among American Jewry. Often, teachers who engage students in nuanced learning about Israel are labeled as being too political, too pro or too anti, or too right or too left, and once the label is made, the stigma is almost impossible to erase. What’s more, the charge (euphemistically termed “a concern”) can be levied by almost anyone at any time with a populist ease that would make a Salem pilgrim blush. The environment has become so charged that it has started to impact what is being discussed in the classrooms, leaving the goalposts of authentic engagement with Israel almost beyond the reach of our students. 

It is high time for us to grow out of our Zionist “Scopes Trial” phase and do away with ideological litmus tests placed on our Israel educators. It is counterproductive and needs to stop. Consciously or not, many teachers dilute lessons to avoid any hint of unacceptable inferences about political attitudes and loyalty. However, when Zionism is reduced to predictable talking points and prepackaged information, study after study confirms what teachers already know: The students aren’t buying it. 

Besides, controversy and politics are as Israeli as Bamba. If we want our kids to get an authentic taste of Israel, let them act Israeli. A classroom brimming with passionate debate about important issues may actually be evidence of solid learning. If your child’s classroom sounds like the Knesset, understand that your quarterback is moving the team closer to the end zone. Running onto the field breaks a quarterback’s confidence and kills momentum. So avoid the fan interference penalty and cheer from the sidelines. 

Zionism has always been a full-contact sport, the highs and lows are an integral part of the Israeli experience, and with the right educator at the helm, your child will come out not only more knowledgeable but connected to Israel in a more meaningful way. 

If you really take issue with a teacher’s playbook, share your perspective with your child. Such discussions are an authentically Jewish way of transmitting values and ideas to the next generation. This game plan has served us well in the past. Why change now that we finally have our own national team?

Jason Feld is dean of students at Shalhevet High School and an alumnus of the Teaching Israel Fellowship.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio: Fighting BDS ‘consistent with progressive values’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that defending Israel from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is “consistent with progressive values.”

[RELATED: Calif. Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts]

Speaking Saturday at the Hampton Synagogue on Long Island, de Blasio, a Democrat known as a progressive, said he plans to challenge “people who support BDS … who call themselves progressives,” JewishInsider reported.

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

“We in the United States, or in any nation, you can disagree with a particular government’s policy at that moment in time, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in that nation, or its right to exist, or its founding ideals,” he said.

“Israel, in good times and bad, tough times and easier times, has been a beacon” to the world, de Blasio said. He noted its “many good works,” and when there are disasters in the world, “Israel is one of the first to be there in defense of those in need, regardless of their background regardless of [faith].”

De Blasio also remarked on how black-Jewish relations in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn have improved dramatically since the riots there 25 years ago.

“Go to Crown Heights today,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. Are all the tensions gone? No.

“But has there been an extraordinary, and consistent, and emphatic effort by the black community and the Jewish community to find each other, to work with each other, to listen to each other? Yes. Have the leaders made it common to meet with each other and look for ways to amplify harmony? Yes. Is there extraordinary understanding that everyone is in it together in that community? Yes.”

California’s Senate passes bill targeting Israel boycotts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BDS bill headed to California Senate floor next week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New GOP platform language removes two-state solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Auto Workers rejects NYU graduate student union vote backing Israel boycott

The United Auto Workers union struck down a vote by the graduate student union at New York University to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Last week’s decision came two months after the resolution to support the BDS movement was approved by two-thirds of the 600 union members who  cast ballots in the Graduate Student Organizing Committee vote. The committee, an affiliate of the UAW, represents more than 2,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at the university.

The resolution called on the union and the UAW to divest from Israeli companies, and on NYU to shutter its program at Tel Aviv University, which it alleges violates the NYU non-discrimination policy. Fifty-seven percent of the voting union members also took a personal pledge to boycott Israeli government and academic institutions.

The boycott should remain in place, the resolution said, “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall [West Bank security barrier], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

Members of the graduate student union who opposed the boycott resolution had filed an appeal against the UAW vote, claiming the resolution violated the UAW constitution.

In a letter dated June 21, the UAW’s president’s office wrote that the BDS resolution at NYU, as at other university locals, “is contrary to the position of the International Union.”

On Tuesday, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations praised the UAW for its rejection of the NYU union’s decision.

“The action taken by the UAW demonstrates it is at the vanguard of promoting justice, and reaffirms the tradition of fairness and staunch opposition to discrimination which are the bedrock of the American labor movement and our society,” Presidents Conference Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a letter to the UAW’s president, Dennis Williams.

“We urge other unions, church groups and academic institutions to follow the UAW’s lead and hope they will take the same principled and moral stand against the blatantly discriminatory BDS campaign,” they added.

NYU spokesman John Beckman told Capital News New York at the time of the vote: “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.”

In January, United Auto Workers International struck down a boycott resolution against Israel passed by the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the UC system.

4 pro-Israel NY food co-op members suspended for disrupting 2015 BDS presentation

A popular Brooklyn cooperative grocery store that has been fighting about Israel boycott efforts for eight years reportedly suspended four pro-Israel members for interrupting a meeting more than a year ago.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, four Park Slope Food Co-op members have been suspended for a year for interrupting an April 2015 presentation by members who were calling for a boycott of SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company that at the time had a factory in a West Bank settlement.

At the 2015 meeting attended by hundreds of members, the four now-suspended members went to the front of the room and unplugged the projector that was displaying an image of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian that they believed was propagandistic.

The four were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in April and found guilty of uncooperative behavior.

In a heated and much publicized 2012 referendum, the co-op voted against boycotting Israeli products. Earlier this year, its members voted to require a supermajority of 75 percent for future boycott efforts.

Sanders camp introduces ‘occupation’ amendment to Democratic platform

Party platforms can be somewhat obscure documents with little real-life impact. Nonetheless, they create a space for partisans to engage in ideological proxy wars.

So when presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appointed two noted critics of Israel to the committee that drafts the Democratic Party platform, he sparked fears that Democratic support for the Jewish state could come under attack.

Those fears took form at a meeting of the drafting committee in St. Louis on June 24, when committee members appointed by Sanders proposed an amendment calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” by Israel in the West Bank.

The five Sanders appointees to the 15-member committee were the only ones to vote in favor of the amendment, which was rejected 8-5. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a Clinton appointee, was absent for the vote, and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee chairman, did not vote.

Introduced by James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, the amendment also would have removed a platform reference to Jerusalem as “an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths” and stripped out language critical of the United Nations and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Zogby and fellow Sanders appointee Cornel West are both outspoken supporters of the BDS movement.

Watch: ” target=”_blank”>an accord between the Clinton and Sanders camps seemed emergent

On June 23, Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Sanders appointee, and Gutierrez released a joint statement through the left-leaning Jewish organization J Street, playing down talk of a rift within the Democratic Party. 

“Some have speculated about divisions within our party over the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East,” they wrote. “The truth is that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’re on the exact same page.” 

Liberal critics of Israel’s actions see the Democratic platform as a venue for sparking a national dialogue on the subject.

“There’s a blockade of Gaza and there’s blockade in Southern California and the nation of having honest conversations about Israel-Palestine,” Estee Chandler, the Los Angeles head of Jewish Voice for Peace, told the Journal.

She added, “I hope that those conversations would happen at both party conventions.”

Correction [July 5, 12:58 p.m.]: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Howard Welinsky served on the platform committee in 2012. He was a member of that committee in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but not in 2012.

Fight BDS with a pro-Palestinian narrative

After attending two anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) conferences in New York City over two days last week – one organized by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and one by the Conference of Presidents – I have some clarity about how to combat this demon.

Yes, demon. I know there’s a “cool crowd” in the Jewish community that underplays the BDS threat and argues that by fighting it so loudly and directly, we give it too much attention. That crowd often reminds us that, so far, the BDS movement has failed to inflict any real economic damage on Israel, and that, if anything, investment in Israel is booming. 

This economic news may be comforting, but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a big mistake to view BDS strictly by the numbers. The purpose of the movement goes far beyond hurting Israel's economy – its core mission is to poison Israel’s image.

“It is working far better and spreading into the mainstream much faster than we had anticipated,” BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said in an interview last week with Bloomberg. 

What is spreading into the mainstream is an orchestrated propaganda campaign that brands Israel as an anti-peace, all-powerful colonialist bully oppressing the helpless Palestinians.

It is the call to boycott that damages Israel, whether or not any actual boycott takes place. That’s why the boycott strategy is a brilliant PR maneuver. It reinforces the malignant narrative that Israel is the evil bully worthy of being boycotted.

If you're pro-Israel and anti-BDS, how do you combat such a strong narrative?

There’s only one way: You must reframe the enemy. Who hurts the Palestinians most? It is their corrupt leaders who glorify terrorism, who teach their people to hate Jews, who have rejected every offer of a Palestinian state and who pilfer humanitarian aid for their fancy villas, private jets and Swiss bank accounts.

Listen to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Ayyad, who knows all about Palestinian corruption. In an interview last week with Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media network, Ayyad noted that, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994, Arabs living under the organization “only hear about corruption from it.”

In its entire existence, Ayyad asserted, the PA “hasn’t built a single kindergarten” for its people.

Ayyad is simply confirming what many of us have long figured out: The corrupt PA, just like its BDS mouthpiece, is out to crush Israel rather than assist the Palestinian people. 

This is the Achilles heel of the BDS movement: It has done absolutely nothing to promote peace or help improve Palestinian lives.

Anti-BDS activists must take advantage of this BDS hypocrisy to expose the movement as a fraud. Even more, they should create a counter movement to do precisely what BDS has failed to do – help Palestinians. 

We can call the movement, “Boycott Hate-Embrace Peace.” 

Among other things, this movement should hold Palestinian leaders accountable to their people.

For example, it could lobby the U.S. Congress to freeze aid to the PA until it can verify that the funds are going directly to the people. Call it the “PA Transparency Bill.” In addition, a special budget would be allocated to fund initiatives that promote normalization and peaceful co-existence.

The movement should enlist Palestinians like Bassem Ayyad to appear at U.S. college campuses to testify against the PA’s corrupt leaders and to promote the “Boycott Hate- Embrace Peace” movement. These testimonials should run as ads in college papers and in mainstream and social media to disseminate how the PA and BDS have abandoned the Palestinians.

In the U.S., one prominent fighter against BDS already is none other than presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who wrote last year in a letter to Jewish leaders:

“BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace. From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith… in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Exposing BDS as harmful to Palestinians is the best way to ambush the movement and put it on the defensive. And if we get lucky, it may even be good for peace.

David Siegel’s tachlis diplomacy

Teaching Eritrean soldiers drip-irrigation technology was not how David Siegel envisioned the start of his career in public diplomacy. But that’s exactly where he found himself in 1995, when he was assigned to be deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy in Eritrea in the heyday of the Oslo Accords.

“Israel was reaching out to African countries, and Eritrea was ending its civil war,” he told me over coffee last week at Factor’s Deli. “Growing their food supply through agriculture was a huge priority for them, so we offered our help, and they were very grateful.”

That lesson must have stuck, because two decades later, as Israel’s consul general to the Southwestern United States, Siegel is still offering Israel’s help.

At a time when the pro-Israel community is struggling to find effective responses to threats like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Siegel’s approach has been remarkably concrete and simple: Make Israel helpful.

“Israel has so much to offer to so many groups,” he said. “Why not take advantage of that?”

Since he began his tenure in 2011, he has indeed followed that practical approach — what he calls “tachlis diplomacy.” He rattled off a long list of agreements between Israel and local groups that have showcased Israel’s value to the region.

The biggest is the Israel-California Strategic Partnership, signed on March 5, 2014, by Gov. Jerry Brown and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their memorandum of understanding has formalized a strategic partnership between California and Israel in areas such as water conservation, cybersecurity, biotechnology, education, innovation, agricultural technology and cultural exchanges.

But Siegel’s office has also been involved with partnerships more tailored to local needs.

In West Hollywood, for example, Siegel and his team reached out to neighborhood leaders and established an HIV/AIDS task force that has connected medical experts and groups in West Hollywood with their counterparts in Israel.

Siegel has taken this “How can Israel help?” approach to other municipalities throughout the region, as well as to ethnic groups such as the Latino and African-American communities. The idea is to further entrench Israel’s standing as an invaluable asset.

Just like those Eritrean soldiers who appreciated learning about drip irrigation, the result of all these partnerships, he said, is plain old gratitude.

“It’s all about building relationships based on real needs,” he said.

And yet, so much of this positive activity has remained beneath the radar. Media coverage of Israel frequently revolves around the drama of conflict. Remember the incident a few years ago when a Jewish UCLA student running for office was asked if her Jewish identity would bias her performance? That one incident probably got more media coverage than all of the initiatives Siegel’s office has undertaken.

This is the nature of the media beast, and Siegel knows it. The BDS movement, in particular, is so loud and aggressive that it has become a nonstop media magnet. Siegel’s office has done its share to fight anti-Israel propaganda, and to become a resource center and unifying force for all pro-Israel groups. But his biggest contribution has been proactive, not reactive. “It’s not enough to fight back,” he said. “You also have to build things. And Israel is very good at building things.”

So, while Israel’s enemies have been screaming about boycotting Israel, Siegel and his team have quietly built a wide network of bipartisan partnerships that promote the exact opposite of boycotting.

Inside the Jewish community, Siegel has also been proactive, working to bridge differences with Israel on issues such as the Women of the Wall. 

Siegel is careful to give plenty of credit to his predecessors, whose efforts he said he’s building on.

In a way, the story of his five-year tenure, which ends this summer, has been the story of Israel itself: Focus on the concrete while the enemy focuses on PR. It’s clear that the ultimate PR victory for Israel will come only when its conflict with its Arab enemies ends. But who knows when that will happen?

Until then, local diplomats like Siegel will continue to make the case for Israel with everything at their disposal. They can’t influence the peace process, but they can influence how Israel contributes to local communities.

When we met, Siegel spoke of the need to “normalize” Israel. I knew what he was trying to say: Because of the way Israel is unfairly targeted by so much of the world, being seen as “normal” would be a wonderful upgrade.

But what I could have told him is this: When a tiny country surrounded by enemies can become so helpful to the rest of the world, well, there’s nothing normal about that.

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

Celebrate Israel Festival seeks to engage, expand partnerships

With a precision flyover, a Moroccan henna party, a fairy hunt, an exhibition honoring 75 years of Bob Dylan and officials paying tribute to the Jewish state, the annual Yom HaAtzmaut Celebrate Israel Los Angeles festival is set to take place this Sunday at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park).  

The Israeli American Council (IAC), organizer of the annual event, hopes to draw a crowd of more than 10,000 to the festival, which features live Israeli music for all ages, including a kids stage, kids activities, a 21-and-older bar that will be sponsored by various young professionals’ organizations throughout the day and more, all in celebration of Israel’s 68th birthday. 

“I think the strongest message right now when BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is happening in Europe is we need to show in America it’s different and we carry the Israeli flag with pride as Jews,” IAC Regional Director Erez Goldman said in a phone interview.

This year’s festival also features pavilions celebrating the Jewish people’s connections to Ethiopia, Morocco and Eastern Europe, a world marketplace, kosher food and more. 

More than 75 local organizations and businesses, including the Jewish Journal, will be represented with booths at the festival. There also will be 25 artists’ booths, 13 food vendors, all kosher, and a variety of pavilions, including one for Magen David Adom, where a blood drive will be held to support Bikur Cholim.

All this hasn’t come easy: The IAC spends approximately $700,000 to produce the festival, including for high-level security, marketing and equipment rentals, according to Dikla Kadosh, senior director of the IAC community center and events.

The Los Angeles office of the IAC, which oversees nine regional offices, is spending $100,000 of its annual $3 million Los Angeles budget on the festival. Philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, as well as corporate sponsors, vendors and ticket sales make up most of the difference. Tickets cost $10 online and $15 at the festival (cash will not be accepted for admission at the door).

A Salute to Israel Walk organized by StandWithUs precedes a previous Israeli American Council Celebrate Israel festival. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

This year marks the fifth consecutive year the IAC has held its Celebrate Israel festival in West Los Angeles. The IAC took the reins of the festival in 2012 after financial concerns by the previous organizer, which held the celebration in the San Fernando Valley, caused it to be canceled in 2011. The Saidoffs have been instrumental in bringing the festival to the Westside and keeping it an annual event.

Goldman, for his part, said he hopes the organization can spend less than $700,000 on the festival in future years. He hopes other organizations will become more involved partners in making the festival possible. 

“I think more organizations definitely need to take part in Celebrate Israel,” he said. 

The theme of this year’s festival is “Israel: A Mosaic of Jewish Cultures.”

The mainstage musical headliner is Israeli-Iranian singer Rita, a veteran performer known for singing in Hebrew, English and Farsi. Goldman said he expects her performance to be a “big production.”

Other entertainment includes Lokchim et Hazman (“Taking Your Time”), which includes Roni Dalumi, the 2009 winner of Israel’s version of “American Idol,” along with Israeli performer Lee Biran and Israeli actress Eliana Tidhar. Goldman described the act as the “hottest family show going on … they play a string of Israeli music from all of Israel’s history. They do it in a cool way. Someone who is 45 years old can enjoy it with their kid who is 15 years old.”

If the goal is to appeal to as large a demographic as possible, Goldman believes they’ve achieved that.

“I think we were able to, kind of music-wise and culture-wise, create the biggest tent we can have,” Goldman said. “I think we were successful in that.”

The IAC, which was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles as a resource for empowering and organizing the Israeli-American community here — the largest Israeli community in the United States — has grown to become a national organization through significant support from philanthropist and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in recent years. The IAC’s Los Angeles office continues to serve as its headquarters, even as offices open in eight more cities outside of L.A. IAC Celebrate Israel festivals are also taking place this month in Boston, Florida, New Jersey, Las Vegas and New York, among other locations.

Goldman, an American-born Jew who made aliyah to Israel, served in the Israel Defense Forces and has been running the regional office of the IAC for the past seven months. He said he plans to attend the festival with his children and his parents. 

“My perfect picture would be a father with a kid on his shoulders,” he said, “and they’re both enjoying the music.”

The annual festival begins at 11 a.m. and concludes at 6 p.m., with an official Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony at 3:15 p.m. For more information, visit

Name-and-Shame BDS posters stir backlash at SDSU, UCLA

A planned appearance by pro-Israel provocateur David Horowitz ignited a firestorm at San Diego State University in advance of a May 5 lecture there by the right-wing activist.

Posters distributed on campus late last month by Horowitz’s organization called out by name seven SDSU student activists, alleging they have “allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew Hatred.” Similar posters naming individual students have appeared in recent weeks on the UCLA campus.

On April 27, protesters at SDSU demanding a condemnation of the posters blocked the school’s president, Elliot Hirshman, from leaving campus in a police car until he spoke with them.

In a video circulated by the SDSU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Hirshman engages the activists in a heated exchange, at close quarters, flanked by security personnel.

“We’re talking about people saying they support the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel — that is a view, and others might share that view who might be terrorists,” Hirshman says in the video, laying out how he understood the posters.

“I don’t think that is saying our students are terrorists,” he says. “If there was a statement that said our students were terrorists and they weren’t, I would certainly condemn that.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune ” target=”_blank”>reported.

Rahim Kurwa, a sociology graduate student at UCLA and BDS activist who was named on the posters, praised the administration’s response.

“We’ve been meeting with them, and I think that they’re making progress,” he told the Jewish Journal.

Kurwa said that while he doesn’t feel his safety is threatened, what Horowitz is “doing is not that far from an incitement to violence.”

“It’s not hard to figure out where my office is on campus,” he said. “That is an issue.”

Kurwa added that posters traceable to Horowitz are a frequent occurrence on campus — he estimated they have surfaced at UCLA about four times in the past year.

The most recent poster campaign, which defined BDS as “a Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel,” also hit three other University of California campuses — Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Berkeley.

The SDSU College Republicans, the group scheduled to host Horowitz on Thursday, said it has no intention of canceling the event in light of potential disruptions.

In a statement, the organization said it was “not aware of the flyers being posted on campus and does not know who is responsible for posting them.” 

The group added, “We will not be silenced by the upcoming protests.”

Meanwhile, on May 2, Hirshman and other administrators met with members of SJP and other student leaders to discuss the posters. 

A wrap-up of the meeting emailed to the Jewish Journal by an SDSU spokesperson concluded that the administration and SJP, working with the student senate, will “undertake a review of university policies to ensure we are balancing freedom of expression and protection from harassment.”

SDSU’s chapter of Hillel, the Jewish student organization, rebuked the posters.

“We strongly condemn any efforts to demonize any racial or religious group, as the inflammatory language of the flyers does,” SDSU Hillel Director Jackie Tolley wrote in a statement.

Horowitz did not respond to a request for comment before this article went to press. But in a

Conference in Los Angeles details strategies to combat BDS

The second annual StandWithUs “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference drew hundreds of people from across the country to Los Angeles to learn more about — and develop a strategy to fight — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). 

“We have to make every college student understand that being for BDS is like being against the environment, it’s like being against gays, it’s like being against civil rights, it’s like being against feminism. We have to make it unacceptable in the minds, hearts and souls of every open-minded student at colleges today,” said former Harvard law professor and renowned defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the conference’s keynote speaker. “Nothing short of that will be a victory.” 

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization that conducts advocacy work on college campuses, at high schools and elsewhere, organized the conference. 

The April 9-11 gathering at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE drew more than 350 attendees, including 70 college students. It featured more than 50 speakers and 50 partner organizations coming together for approximately 25 panel discussions, lectures and breakout sessions focused on combating BDS on the legislative level, through legal means and through education.

The gathering’s Sunday night dinner featured remarks by Dershowitz as well as Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. 

The conference took place on the heels of a March vote by the University of California Board of Regents to approve a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which denounces “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination” on UC campuses. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and the founder of AMCHA Initiative, which investigates instances of anti-Semitism on college campuses, called the vote a step in the right direction.

The regents “came out with a statement that is aspirational. … It is a necessary but not a sufficient [step],” she said, appearing Sunday morning on a panel titled “BDS in Academia/Faculty.”

California Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) called the BDS movement a “global scourge” while appearing on a panel titled “Legislative Approaches to BDS.”

“This issue transcends politics, it transcends religion. This is about right and wrong,” he said.

Allen, who is not Jewish, introduced an anti-BDS bill earlier this year that, if passed, would force the state to stop doing business, in most instances, with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) recently introduced similar legislation. 

How does one combat BDS? Michael Harris, a co-founder of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which is now the San Francisco chapter of StandWithUs, attempted to provide some answers during a Sunday panel titled “BDS in the Community.” He said there are five ways to combat BDS, and they include using “positive language” in materials that speak about Israel. 

Robert Jacobs, Northwest regional director of StandWithUs, joined Harris on the panel and discussed what he called the rapid growth of “anti-Israel organizations” such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). This, he said, is reflected in an increasing number of anti-Israel speakers, including at high schools, college campuses and beyond. 

“We see anti-Israel speakers spreading rapidly,” he said.

(StandWithUs, for its part, conducts pro-Israel workshops in high schools across North America, and, during the conference, the organization’s CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein announced plans for the organization to begin working in middle schools.)

Jacobs also said that the “BDS movement has overreached … [and] crossed into anti-Semitism. … It’s bad, but it’s also good. … It’s getting the Jewish community engaged in a way that it wasn’t before.” 

At the conclusion of “Combating BDS Through Social Media,” Harris asked Rothstein why SJP has been able to make anti-Zionism synonymous with support for the Palestinians. 

“Why do we need to let them define ‘pro-Palestinian’ as ‘anti-Zionist’?” he asked. 

“SJP is not pro-Palestine,” Rothstein replied. “They are just anti-Israel.” 

Speaking to the Journal on Sunday afternoon, Rothstein said she hoped attendees would leave the conference ready to fight BDS. 

“Everybody is very, very stimulated, they’re enjoying it,” she said. “For me, it will all be in the follow-up.”

Breakout strategy sessions took place throughout the weekend, but StandWithUs declined to allow members of the media to join them.

The organization works with a broad cross-section of organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and this was reflected at the conference. Christians United for Israel Campus Outreach Director David Walker appeared on Sunday during a panel titled “BDS on Campus.” He spoke of a recent phenomenon in which the pro-Palestinian movement is attempting to apply the issues raised by Black Lives Matter to its cause.

“They’re hijacking the message of the Black community,” said Walker, who is Black.

Alex Schieber, 21, a political science and Judaic studies double major at the State University of New York at Albany and president of the school’s Great Danes for Israel, said he is all too familiar with the trend.

“Last year, [my school] had the ‘From Ferguson to Palestine’ rally and my friend put up a sign that said, ‘Jews believe Black lives matter, too’ or something like that, and [anti-Israel students] took a picture of it and made a meme out of it saying ‘Zionists be like lives matter. What a joke.’ 

“And it immediately blew up. It had thousands of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Israel comments, racist comments, bigoted comments, and that was a great shock for me, because my university is 28 percent Jewish. I never expected anything like that to happen at my university,” he said. 

“I had just come into the pro-Israel movement and it was a shock for me and I immediately wanted to figure out how to stop them on our campus and how to prevent stuff like this from happening … to make sure it never happens again.”

Bernie Sanders says anti-Semitism is a factor in BDS

It would be a mistake to count out anti-Semitism as a driver of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

“I think there is some of that, absolutely,” Sanders, I-Vt., said Monday evening on MSNBC after being asked if he would link BDS to anti-Semitism like his rival for the Democratic presidential nod, Hillary Clinton.

“Israel has done some very bad things, so has every other country on earth,” Sanders said. “I think the people who want to attack Israel for their policies, I think that is fair game. But not to appreciate that there is some level of anti-Semitism around the world involved in that I think would be a mistake.”

In the interview Sanders, who is Jewish, repeated some of the expansions on his Israel views that he delivered earlier in the day in a foreign policy speech. He said the United States needed to be more even-handed in how it dealt with Israel and the Palestinians, and singled out for criticism Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I spent many months on a kibbutz on Israel, so I know something about Israel,” he said. “Israel has got to be defended, has a right to exist, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.”

Sanders slammed Netanyahu particularly for the speech the prime minister delivered to Congress a year ago against President Barack Obama’s Iran policies. The senator appeared to be questioning Clinton, as well as the Republican presidential candidates, for their tendency to avoid criticism of Netanyahu.

“When you look at somebody like a Netanyahu, to simply not understand that this is a right-wing politician,” he said. “A guy who kind of crashed the United States Congress to give his speech there, ignoring President Obama, not even consulting with him, using it for political purposes back home, a guy who has supported the growth of settlements.”

Sanders was the only presidential candidate not to address this week’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in Washington, D.C. He was traveling in Western states ahead of primaries this week, where he hopes to narrow Clinton’s delegate lead. He offered to deliver a speech via video link, but AIPAC declined, although it has hosted remote speeches by presidential candidates in the past.

Sanders in the interview also reiterated how his Judaism has shaped his political outlook.

“I would say that being Jewish, what has been most significant in my life is understanding what a Hitler, what horrible politics can mean to people, and I think that’s been one of the motivating factors in my life in fighting against racism and bigotry of all kinds,” he said. “Because when it gets out of hand, as we have seen, it obviously has unbelievable repercussions.”

The country BDS doesn’t want Oscar winners to see

Last week, two groups affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement took out a full-page ad in the L.A. Times excoriating the Israeli Government for offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Holy Land for Oscar nominees. Leveling the false, but oft-repeated charge that Israel is an apartheid state, they called on the nominees to turn down the opportunity to visit.

Many countries run public relations campaigns in the U.S. to burnish their national brands and promote tourism. Only Israel – the one democracy and America’s strongest ally in the region – is systematically singled out and criticized for it. 

While turning a blind eye to the horrific human right’s records of virtually every other country in our region – from Iran’s jailing of journalists and murder of political dissidents, to the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, to Yemen’s brutal repression of religious minorities – the BDS Movement looks for any opportunity to go after Israel. 

This Movement’s goal is clear and simple: to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately, destroy the world’s only Jewish state through economic warfare and vile lies – the same tactics long employed by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people. Instead of pursuing peace and justice as BDS activists claim, these groups sow the seeds for hate and conflict, publicly rejecting a two-state solution and calling for Israel to be removed from the map. 

The ad raises the question: why exactly is the BDS Movement so desperate to keep people from seeing Israel with their own eyes? 

Perhaps it is because the boycotts and slander of BDS cannot hide a simple truth, which is that the freest Arab population in the Middle East lives in Israel. Far from an apartheid state, Israel is the only country in the region with an independent judiciary, a thriving and open civil society, and guaranteed political and legal rights for all of its citizens. 

Indeed, if Oscar nominees take us up on the offer to come to Israel, they will meet Arab-Israelis who serve at the highest levels of government, from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet to the Parliament to the Supreme Court, along with Arab-Israeli leaders in science, medicine, business, and the arts. In a survey by the Statnet research institute, 77% of Arab Israelis said that they would prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty rather than Palestinian rule. 

Israel is not perfect. Like minorities in many countries, the Arab-Israeli community faces challenges– and one of our government’s main priorities is to close the social, economic, and educational gaps that now exist between the general population and communities like Arab-Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

We are making progress on this front. The presence of Arab students in Israel universities has risen more than 50% over the past decade and it continues to increase, particularly among women. Arab-Israelis are 20 percent of Israel’s population, but now account for 22 percent of the student body at the Technion – Israel’s leading institution of science and technology. Just last month, the Israeli Government announced a plan to allocate an additional $3.8 billion to improve housing, social welfare, infrastructure, transportation and education for Arab-Israeli communities. 

The situation for Arabs in Israel marks a stark contrast to life in Gaza – an area that Israel withdrew from completely in 2005 – where the Hamas terrorist organization continues to rule, brutally oppressing the population, particularly women, political dissidents, and members of the LGBT community. In the West Bank, Palestinians live with the tragic consequences of their failed and corrupt leadership, which has rejected far-reaching U.S. and Israeli peace offers that included a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to sit at the negotiating table with Israel to pursue a two-state solution. 

The true path to peace lies in building bridges, not promoting boycotts. The real advocates for justice will look for opportunities to create dialogue between the two parties, instead of simply demonizing one of them. 

The good news is that aside from the very small group of radicals behind the BDS Movement, millions across America and around the world are building stronger relationships than ever with Israel, which has become a center of innovation and a magnet for solutions in so many spheres, from high-tech to water to medicine. 

As we have since our founding, Israel will continue striving to advance our core values of democracy and human rights, improve life for all our citizens, and extend our hand in the hopes of building a brighter future of prosperity and peace with our neighbors. 

David Siegel is the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest.

Ad accusing Israel of apartheid published in Los Angeles Times

A full-page ad that calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in their Academy Award swag bags was published in the Los Angeles Times.

The ad, which says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” appeared Wednesday in the newspaper’s Calendars section days after the entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish the ad, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Co-sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the ad has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians.”

The Israeli government is sponsoring the all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air travel to Tel Aviv. The trip is included in swag bags for Oscar host Chris Rock and all nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and director categories.

Variety initially accepted payment for the group’s ad, but then said it could not publish the ad since “it would need to have a softer tone.” JVP said in a statement it had asked for suggestions of “specific edits,” but was told “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”

“We’re glad the LA Times is running our ad,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Censorship has no place in a serious publication, whether in ads or editorial content.”

Sharansky’s campus tour with Michael Douglas, talking Israel, anti-Semitism and how to combat BDS

People in the audience at UC Santa Barbara’s Pollack Theater on the evening of Feb. 3 weren’t quite sure what to make of Michael Douglas clapping one hand against the other and then against his leg.

Until he said in his trademark New York accent, “That’s the Cossacks.”

He was answering a question from Natan Sharansky, the Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who had asked the renowned actor to share the story of his family’s Jewish journey. Douglas began in 1914 czarist Belarus, traced his grandfather’s immigration two years later to New York, where his father, Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas), was born and raised Orthodox. Kirk Douglas had become secular by the time he and his wife, Diana, had Michael in 1944.

Michael Douglas, who identifies as a secular Jew, began to speak out publicly in support of Israel in June 2015 while on a trip to receive the Genesis Prize, an annual $1 million award from the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Jewish Agency. On that trip, Douglas called the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement “an ugly cancer.”

The Feb. 3 event featured a conversation between Sharansky and Douglas and was co-hosted by the Genesis Prize Foundation, Hillel International, the Jewish Agency and Santa Barbara Hillel. It was their third event in a joint weeklong national trip in which the pair discussed their Jewish backgrounds, concerns about intrafaith and interfaith inclusion, and about activism on college campuses. They also made visits to Brown and Stanford universities.

The discussion lasted about 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes of question-and-answer with students in the audience; it shifted between the two famous personalities’ own Jewish stories and comments on current issues, including the BDS movement and the landmark compromise in Israel to create a separate egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall that had been announced the previous weekend.

“They realized that if the other side will be defeated, the wall will stop being a symbol for half the Jewish people,” Sharansky said of the decision by the Israeli government. “I believe that if we will succeed with this compromise, it’s a great place for addressing many other problems, [like the] condition of conversions.”

Sharansky said both the Women of the Wall — which has been fighting for more than 25 years for the right of women to wear prayer shawls and conduct services at the Wall, as men do — and the rabbis of the Wall, who have resisted change, have acted as heroes in this episode “because they had to make concessions.”

Douglas, a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, described himself as having been a “good hippie” in the 1960s, and as having been engaged in “some slight medical research” for glaucoma, jokingly referring to marijuana use.

“I felt I was part of a tribe,” Douglas said of being awarded the Genesis Prize last year. “As secular as I am, just being a part of that community and the values they represented meant a tremendous amount to me.”

At one point, Douglas asked everyone in the room who had been to Israel to raise their hands. Nearly everyone did.

Sharansky showed his blunt and often dark sense of humor when he responded to Douglas’ comment that he’s not sure “if it necessarily makes you a better Jew if you daven more than someone else.”

“You can try; it helps a lot,” Sharansky said, referring to prayers he had invented while imprisoned in the Soviet Union at a time when he didn’t know Hebrew.

The Israeli statesman also quipped toward the end of the evening: “I never in my life took so many selfies with Hollywood celebrities.”

Sharansky spoke of a “deep connection” between classical European anti-Semitism, “which was all based on demonization, delegitimization [and] double standards toward Jews,” and today’s anti-Semitism, which Sharansky said is based on those same three things, but now directed toward Israel.

Douglas told of an experience in Europe in which his son, Dylan, was verbally assaulted at a hotel pool by a Swiss man who had spotted the boy’s Star of David necklace. He also described how, at their recent event at Brown University, Sharansky had tried without success to talk with anti-Israel protestors.

“Natan goes out and talks to people to try to find out what the issues are, and very quickly you find out they don’t know how to talk — they really don’t. They know how to protest,” Douglas said. “Israel is an apartheid state? How do you mean? That you’re going to compare Israel to South Africa before Nelson Mandela? I don’t think so.”

Hillary Clinton: Taking the U.S.-Israel relationship to the next level

In this time of terrorism and turmoil, the alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever.  To meet the many challenges we face, we have to take our relationship to the next level.

Israel needs a strong America by its side, and America needs a strong and secure Israel by our side.  It’s in our national interest to have an Israel that remains a bastion of stability and a core ally in a region in chaos, and an Israel strong enough to deter its enemies and strong enough to take steps in the pursuit of peace.

I’m especially concerned about the new wave of violence inside Israel itself – brutal stabbings, shootings, and vehicle attacks that seek to sow fear among the innocent.  Recently, terrorists murdered an American Yeshiva student named Ezra Schwartz in a drive-by shooting.  These attacks must stop immediately, and Palestinian leaders should condemn and combat incitement in all of its forms. 

More broadly, the United States and Israel need to work together to address three converging trends: the rise of ISIS and the struggle against radical jihadism, Iran’s increasingly aggressive regional ambitions, and the growing effort around the world to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

First, we must work with our friends and partners to deny ISIS territory in the Middle East, dismantle the global infrastructure of terror, and toughen our defenses at home.  We can’t just contain ISIS – we must defeat ISIS. 

Second, we have to send Iran an unequivocal message.  There can be no doubt in Tehran that if Iran’s leaders violate their commitments not to seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons, the United States will stop them.  They will test our resolve with actions like their provocative ballistic missile test, for which we should impose new sanctions designations.  They need to understand that America will act decisively if Iran violates the nuclear agreement, including taking military action if necessary.  

Third, we must continue to fight against global efforts to delegitimize Israel.   The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, is the latest front in this battle.  BDS demonizes Israeli scientists and intellectuals—even young students—and compares Israel to South African apartheid.  That’s wrong and this campaign should end. 

Some of the BDS movement’s proponents may hope pressuring Israel will lead to peace, but no outside force is going to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  Only a two-state solution negotiated between the parties can provide Palestinians independence, sovereignty, and dignity, and provide Israelis the secure and recognized borders of a democratic Jewish state.  As difficult as it is, everyone has to do their part to rebuild trust and create the conditions for progress.  Israelis and Palestinians should demand their leaders seek every opportunity to demonstrate commitment to peace.

With radical jihadism on the rise, Iran seeking to extend its reach, and growing efforts to delegitimize Israel, the United States and Israel need to stand together more than ever.  Israel’s search for security, stability and peace goes hand in hand with the broader effort of the United States to secure and stabilize the Middle East.  It’s time to take our alliance to the next level. 

As part of this effort, we need to ensure that Israel continues to maintain its qualitative military edge.  The United States should further bolster Israeli air defenses and help develop better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping.  We should also expand high level U.S.-Israel strategic consultations.  If we present a united front to the region and the world, I’m confident we can meet the threats and challenges we face today.

For me, this is more than policy – it’s personal.  I was born just a few months before Israel declared independence.  My generation came of age admiring the talent and tenacity of the Israeli people, who coaxed a dream into reality out of the harsh desert soil.  We watched a small nation fight fearlessly for its right to exist and build a thriving, raucous democracy.  And, through it all, Israel’s pursuit of peace was as inspiring as its prowess in war.  That’s why, like many Americans, I feel a deep emotional connection with Israel.  We are two nations woven together, lands built by immigrants and exiles seeking to live and worship in freedom, given life by democratic principles and sustained by the service and sacrifice of generations of patriots.

Yet even with all this history, with all our common interests and shared values, we can’t take this relationship for granted.  With every passing year, we must tie the bonds tighter and do the hard, necessary work of friendship.  Because there is a new generation in both countries today that does not remember our shared past; young Americans who didn’t see Israel in a fight for survival again and again, and young Israelis who didn’t see the United States broker peace at Camp David or kindle hope at Oslo or stand behind Israel when it was attacked.  They are growing up in a different world.  The future of our relationship depends on building new ties for a new time.

Hillary Clinton is a Democratic candidate for president. This essay was prepared for the Jewish Journal. The Journal will present views from candidates of all sides during the course of the 2016 election campaign.

Can Israel save itself?

Recent weeks have witnessed an intense debate surrounding the Israeli human rights group “Breaking the Silence” (BTS). Much of this is related to the Israeli government’s proposed legislation to require nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to display in demonstrable and public form the support they received from foreign governments, in sharp distinction from the free pass that the government gives to right-wing groups that receive a great deal of money from foreign, private sources. BTS, which receives part of its budget from the European Union, has been cast as the chief culprit, owing to its policy of reporting on abuses by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in the occupied territories. Both President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Tzipi Livni went out of their way to criticize BTS at the New Israel Fund/HaaretzQ conference in New York in mid-December. Far more gravely, the right-wing Israeli organization Im Tirtzu produced a provocative video that depicted a leading member of BTS as a sinister foreign agent who endangered the security of the State of Israel.  

In the eyes of its opponents, the chief sins of BTS are two-fold: first, that it dares to criticize the most and perhaps only sacred institution remaining in Israel, the IDF; and second, that it does so not only at home, in Israel, but abroad, in Europe and the United States. Such reports abroad, it is argued, only strengthen the hand of Israel’s enemies at a particularly vulnerable point in time.  

This concern cannot be dismissed out of hand. There clearly is an uptick in anti-Israeli agitation in the West, especially through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which may well shift its tactic from attacking Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to advocating an academic and cultural boycott of Israel (and thereby questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist). This kind of agitation is often confused with, but nonetheless is distinct from, the decision by the European Union (EU) in November to label products coming from Israeli settlements. The EU’s policy is in fact an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist. Along with much of the world, it regards Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line as illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.  But it recognizes Israel’s right to live in peace and security within the Green Line. By issuing a kind of censure on settlement products, it is seeking to push Israel away from a dangerous cliff: If the country continues to entrench itself in West Bank settlements, there will be no Palestinian state. In addition to denying Palestinians their legitimate right to self-determination, continued occupation will likely also spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state, given the demographic trends in the land between the Jordan and Mediterranean. 

The EU, therefore, is attempting to shake up the current geopolitical stasis, a state that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems intent on preserving. In parallel, BTS is attempting to call attention to abuses that result from Israel’s occupation. Its decision to air accounts of Israeli soldiers’ transgressions is discomfiting, to be sure. It taps into a deep-rooted fear in Jewish tradition that regards entreaties to gentiles as the height of disloyalty. Medieval Jews regarded with unrestrained animosity fellow Jews (known as mosrim) who informed on others to the gentile state.  Similarly, it was considered a severe breach of protocol to seek to adjudicate legal matters between Jews in a gentile jurisdiction (arka`ot shel goyim).  

We live in a different world now. There is a self-standing and powerful Jewish state. But it is not unblemished. The logic of groups such as Breaking the Silence is that self-scrutiny by Israel alone is not always sufficient. The IDF, professional and well trained as it may be, is not the best vehicle to monitor or pass judgment on allegations of abuses within it. Nor is Israel’s current right-wing government, whose leaders sometimes seem less interested in upholding the country’s increasingly fragile democratic foundation than the army or security services. 

Can Israel save itself at this point? As the country marks the ignominious 50th year of the occupation in 2017, this is an ever more urgent question. There is no evidence to suggest that Netanyahu can or wants to take the difficult steps necessary to preserve Israel’s delicate democratic balance and realize the promise laid out in its founding Declaration of Independence from May 14, 1948. In light of that, one can either accept the current anti-democratic drift, with its potential to make a bad situation in Israel/Palestine much worse, or one can appeal, as BTS has done, to external audiences who are interested in peace and justice in this troubled land. 

Undeniably, this is a risky proposition.  There are actors out there in the world who desire nothing more than to condemn Israel to extinction.  But there are also actors out there, such as the European Union, which distinguish clearly between Israel’s right to exist and the illegality of its occupation. Distinguishing between the two kinds of audiences is tricky, and Breaking the Silence must be mindful of this.  But it is not impossible. Above all, it is necessary, since the policy of keeping Israel’s woes in-house has simply not worked.

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

Eagles of Death Metal producer denies reports of upcoming Israel concert

Contrary to earlier reports, the American band whose Paris concert was attacked on Friday has not confirmed any plans to perform in Israel.

On Monday afternoon, the Times of Israel quoted the Eagles of Death Metal’s Israeli producer as saying earlier Israeli media reports were based on “unconfirmed rumors” and were “simply not true.”

Ynet reported earlier in the day that the band, which performed in Israel last summer despite pressure from the BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, had confirmed plans to return in the summer of 2016.

Eighty-seven people, including three of the band’s crew members, were killed at the Eagles of Death Metal’s concert on Friday after gunmen entered the Bataclan theater and began shooting into the crowd. The attack was one of several terrorist attacks in the French capital that left 129 dead and more than 300 injured.

None of the musicians was hurt in the attacks.