Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

L.A.’s Iranian Jews Call for Boycott of Iranian Muslim Singer’s Concert over Anti-Semitic Lyrics


Local Jewish activists and community groups are calling for a boycott of a Dec. 16 concert by the popular Iranian Muslim musician and singer, Mohsen Yeganeh, who they accuse of using anti-Semitic and anti-Israel lyrics in a song.

“Our community is now recognizing that in this great country, while bigots are free to express bigotry, we are also free to shout down their hate, shame them, and hurt them in their pocketbooks,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a local Iranian Jewish nonprofit group.

Others who have publicly opposed the upcoming concert at downtown L.A.’s Microsoft Theatre include Sinai Temple, Nessah Synagogue and the Hebrew Discovery Center (HDC), a Jewish Iranian organization based in Reseda that created an online petition demanding that the concert be cancelled which has generated more than 4,000 signatures.

“As Jews living in Iran for hundreds of years, we did not have a voice or the right to speak out when anyone in the country spoke bad about us,” HDC’s Rabbi Netanel Louie said. “Now that we have a voice and a right in this country, we must speak out and make people aware of this hate generate against our people”.

One controversy stems from the Farsi language lyrics in Yeganeh’s song “Flock of Vultures,” which in English states, according to one translation, “Two triangles they put on top of each other, then they put a new name on the town, two triangles mean fear and prison, they are the enemies of smiling children.”

Local Iranian Jewish activists argue that the reference to the two triangles refers to the Star of David and that the vultures of the songs title refers to Jews. Another lyric — “just pray that our Friday night man can get back our land” — is believed to be a reference to the Iranian regime’s imams, who during Friday night prayers in Iran regularly call for Israel’s destruction and for Iran to recapture Israeli lands for Muslims.

“We (Iranian Jews) say it in loud and clear terms that we will not stand for attacks to our dignity and to the Jewish State based on hatred and lies, “ said George Haroonian, a local Iranian Jewish activist and former board member of the Iranian Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. “We know and understand Iranian culture and the political scene. Calling Israel and Jews a flock of vultures is pure and simple anti-Semitism!”

Iranian Jewish community members said they were also very upset with an online Farsi language video created by Aparat.com, an Iranian regime state-sponsored news website, that features Yeganeh’s song playing over a series of graphic images of dead or injured Palestinian children, anti-Semitic cartoons and more.

Various Anti-Defamation League local and national offices recently released statements on Twitter condemning the video’s content and Yeganeh’s song. Likewise the “Creative Community For Peace” an entertainment industry organization based in New York that fights cultural boycotts of Israel also released a statement on social media platforms condemning Yeganeh’s upcoming L.A. performance because of his anti-Israel song.

In a letter posted on Facebook, Sinai Temple wrote,  “Yeganeh is anti-Semitic in his lyrics, as well as his behavior/actions. An obscene music video … depicts Israel as a child-killing nation, flashing graphic images of maimed and dead children. In the video, he blatantly calls for he destruction of Israel and burns the Israeli flag. Yeganeh’s message is demeaning, divisive and hateful.”

Angela Maddahi, the Iranian Jewish president of Sinai, wrote an email to the theater opposing the concert and calling for it to be cancelled, but indicated that she had received no response.

The Journal’s emails and telephone calls to the Microsoft Theatre were not returned either. According to the venue’s website, tickets for Yeganeh’s concert range from $60 to $350 per person and the performance will be his second in the U.S. after a previous 2014 U.S. concert and other sold-out shows in Europe.

Yeganeh, 32, who according to his website is a self-taught musician and singer who took up his career while studying industrial engineering at the University of Tehran, also did not respond to emails sent to him for comment.

However, he was asked about the concert controversy Dec. 14 during an appearance on the Studio City-based Farsi-language radio station KIRN 670 AM. His response was that he has never tried to make people intentionally upset in his life and that the Iranian regime used his song in its video without his permission. He did not make any apology or further explanation.

The recent campaign against Yeganeh’s has galvanized many Los Angeles area Iranian Jews to speak out. This is a unique phenomenon for a community who for centuries in Iran and for decades in America remained largely silent on the sidelines during such controversies involving Iranian anti-Semitism. In the past, community members in Los Angeles and New York often were not actively speaking out against the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism for fear of the Iranian regime’s potential retaliation against Jews still living in Iran.

Activists said today a substantial segment of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles that are estimated to be 40,000 strong, typically patronize Iranian cultural and musical performances. They said they hope to send a clear message that hatred for Jews or Israel will no longer be tolerated.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the L.A.-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran” said he was not surprised at Yeganeh’s song lyrics expressing hate for Jews or Israel because the Iranian regime for nearly three decades has been indoctrinating young people in Iran with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and Holocaust denial ideology.

“The specific policy of anti-Semitism in Iran dates back to the late 1990s,” said Nikbakht who has been monitoring anti-Semitic Farsi language media put out by the Iranian regime for more than 30 years. “It has been successful as far as being accepted by millions, including anti-regime factions even though there are indications that some people have been drawn towards the Jews, towards Israel and the minorities because of the regime’s excessive propaganda.”

This isn’t the first time that local members of the Iranian Jewish community have mobilized against performers from Iran perceived to be anti-Semitic. In 2015, various community activists launched a campaign against Akbar Abdi, a Iranian Muslim comedian who had used derogatory terms to describe Jews and who had traveled from Iran to perform Farsi language shows in Southern California and elsewhere in the country. These efforts ultimately led to the cancellation of his event.

Haroonian said many local Iranian Jewish activists will continue to voice their opposition to Yeganeh’s performances during his U.S. concert tour and work with American Jewish groups to expose his song’s message of hate.

He also said some local Iranian Jewish activists will be seeking to reach out to Farsi language media outlets and non-Jewish Iranian media personalities in an effort to educate them about Israel and anti-Semitism.

“We must say to all Iranian artists and entertainers that Jews have always supported and participated in the enhancement of Iran’s culture,” Haroonian said. “Your role should be one of ‘peacemakers’ and if you want to make a political statement, then have the decency to speak out about the whole story — not just the lies and hate propaganda”.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Sinai Temple Letter Calls for Boycott of Anti-Semitic Singer’s Concert


A letter from Sinai Temple is calling for the boycott of an anti-Semitic Persian singer’s concert on Saturday at the Microsoft Theater.

In a letter that was posted to Facebook, the temple wrote that “[Mohsen] Yeganeh is anti-Semitic in his lyrics, as well as his behavior/actions.” They also linked to a song of his that “depicts Israel as a child-killing nation” and “calls for the destruction of Israel and burns the Israeli flag.”

The full letter can be read below:

A petition has also been issued, which has received 3,370 signatures so far.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Report: Michigan Students Behind Divestment Resolution Made Controversial Statements About Jews and Israel


A new report suggests that the students behind University of Michigan’s anti-Israel divestment resolution made some controversial statements about Jews and Israel.

The Washington Free Beacon obtained video of  Ahmed Ismail, who is a part of the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) club that pushed the resolution, referred to Zionism as “a dirty political ideology” and tried to disassociate Israel from Judaism.

“There’s no nation called ‘Judaism,'” said Ismail. “Where on the map is there a country called ‘Jews’?”

Ismail defended his comments to the Free Beacon, stating: “Any person who is a Zionist believes in the State of Israel, even though it oppresses and kills millions of Palestinians—which I call terrorism.”

Ismail said that while most Jews were Zionists, he didn’t think Judaism inherently breeds terrorism and that he had several Jewish friends.

The video also caught students concurring with the notion that the pro-Palestinian crowd should reconsider its “past nonviolent stance” as well as a Palestinian student telling a Jewish student she wouldn’t engage in a conversation with him simply because he’s pro-Israel.

“I’m not going to have a conversation with you,” the student said. “Those are my guiding principles.”

The Palestinian student did tell the Jewish student that he could listen to her.

Earlier in November, the University of Michigan’s student government passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that conducted business in Israel. The university signaled that it wouldn’t be divesting from any company in the near future since it wouldn’t make sense from a business standpoint.

Hours after the resolution passed, a swastika was found emblazoned in the men’s bathroom in one of the university buildings.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-Semitic Graffiti Discovered at University of Michigan


A piece of anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in a bathroom at the University of Michigan on Wednesday.

According to the Michigan Daily, two Jewish students discovered a swastika emblazoned on a bathroom stall in permanent black marker in the Modern Languages Building. One of the students, Sammy Lawrence, reported the incident to the campus Division of Public Safety and Security.

Lawrence told the Daily he “felt particularly targeted by this Nazi symbol.”

“Giving a platform and validating anti-Semites or individuals who support causes that embrace anti-Semitism makes hateful speech towards Jews acceptable,” said Lawrence. “I call on the entire (U)niversity to condemn this anti-Semitic incident, reach out to a Jewish peer and check in with them, and reflect on how we can prevent this moving forward.”

The other student, Ryan Schedit, told the Daily he “was fearful” that the swastika was connected to Michigan’s student government calling for the university to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

“If it was drawn this morning after the vote, I hope it has nothing to do with divestment, but it would scare me if it did,” said Schedit.

A university spokesperson told the Algemeiner that don’t know when the swastika was drawn and they don’t have any current suspects.

On Wednesday morning before the swastika was discovered, Michigan’s student government approved the divestment resolution by a margin of 23 in favor, 17 against and five abstaining. While the university seems to be unwilling to divest from any company, those in the Jewish community on campus criticized the resolution for being divisive and targeting Israel.

The tactic of divestment has been popularized by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for its “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

The Day Twitter Fell Silent: How Harvey Weinstein Inadvertently Caused a Twitter Boycott


Actress Rose McGowan, who’s been leading the Twitter crusade against Harvey Weinstein, was penalized by Twitter for posting a tweet about Weinstein that contained a private phone number – a violation of their Terms of Service. On Thursday morning, Oct 12, Twitter issued a statement that McGowan’s account would be temporarily frozen because of this violation.

This didn’t fly well with the Twitter community. The freeze manifested into a worldwide one-day Twitter boycott on Friday, Oct 13, with many users adopting the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter.

In solidarity with McGowan (a victim of Weinstein’s sexual transgressions), comedian Chelsea Handler, Emmy-nominated host Billy Eichner, and “Catfish” host Nev Schulman joined the protest.

(Although, it should be mentioned, Eichner broke his Twitter silence to post about President Trump addressing the Values Voter Summit, but he resumed his boycott soon after.)

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

New Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort against Israel


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

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegations of cow tongue price fixing troubles Persian Jews


A local rabbi is using his Facebook page to urge the Jewish community to boycott several local kosher supermarkets, alleging they and their suppliers are involved in a “scheme of price fixing” over the cost of kosher fish and meat, including cow tongue.

In a Sept. 14 post, Rabbi Netanel Louie, founder and director of Hebrew Discovery Center in Woodland Hills, said the recent price of kosher cow tongue “has exceeded a ridiculous $20 per pound in certain stores.” Louie also called for Los Angeles rabbis and local Jews to “boycott buying meat from all kosher markets in L.A. until prices drop.”

Most Iranian Jews consume cow tongue as a Rosh Hashanah siman, or sign to be “at the head and not the tail,” according to a passage in Deuteronomy.

Asked if he has verifiable evidence of price fixing, Louie said he knows people who can confirm it but declined to identify them.

Louie did not mention specific stores, but at least two are selling tongue at $19.99 per pound, citing low supply. At Elat Market on Pico Boulevard, a representative of the meat department, who asked not to be identified, said although he understood customer frustration, his distributors “don’t always have the supply. And when they do have it, they usually give it to clients who purchase more of it during the course of the year.”

Cow tongue has sold at lower prices at other times of the year.

A message from our very own Rabbi Louie, to the community: Dear members of the community, I am personally writing to…

Posted by Hebrew Discovery Center on Thursday, September 14, 2017

Glatt Mart, also on Pico, claims to have lowered the costs of beef and chicken to make products more affordable during the Jewish High Holy Days. Elat Market says it has done the same.

Representatives from both stores offered to make their recent invoices of tongue purchases from suppliers available to the public to demonstrate that they have not engaged in price fixing.

Meir Davidpour, a partner at Glatt Mart, called Louie’s allegations “false” and said they could be challenged “in a legal manner.”

Glatt Mart co-partner Aaron Nourollah said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cut imports from what they claim to be “any inside parts of the animal, such as tongue, liver, and brain,” particularly from Uruguay and Costa Rica. One of Glatt Mart’s primary meat suppliers, a company that asked not to be identified, also claimed that there is a “major shortage” of cow tongue available this year.

USDA import-export representatives could not be reached for comment.

Drew Alyeshmerni Leach, 32, a resident of San Pedro who runs an educational nonprofit, said she drove three hours round-trip last week to the Pico-Robertson area to purchase Glatt kosher cow tongue for Rosh Hashanah. An Iranian married to an Ashkenazi Jew, she said she enjoys sharing Persian-Jewish customs with her husband and his family.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury,” she said. Instead of tongue, Alyeshmerni Leach bought a package of turkey necks for $6.

“We are hosting our very first Rosh Hashanah as a married couple and I’m sad that because of the high price, I won’t be able to continue this Persian tradition with my husband as we build our new home together,” she said.

Eman Esmailzadeh, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Westwood, said he has decided to adopt the Ashkenazi custom of displaying a fish head at his family’s Rosh Hashanah table this year.

“To my dismay, there are many that take Rabbi Louie’s claims of price fixing as another reason to bash kashrut altogether. The fact is that if you truly want to be kosher, you could keep kosher without ever buying a pound of meat,” he said. ​

Louie and representatives from Elat Market and Glatt Mart are expressing concern that the controversy will deter many Jews from adhering to kosher meat standards.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury.”

“Such shameful actions over greed for money are examples of what perpetuate the community to wrongly criticize Judaism and in some cases even stop eating kosher,” Louie said on Facebook, adding in an interview, “It has to be very clear to the community that in no shape or form does boycotting kosher meat mean that they are encouraged or allowed to purchase nonkosher meat. All it means is do not eat meat for a short amount of time till the industry feels the pain and regulates itself.”

At Glatt Mart, Nourollah says that rather than high prices, accusations of corruption such as those by Louie are deterrents that turn people away from kosher practice.

Louie, who says he has received “99.99 percent positive feedback” for his call to boycott, is open to speaking with both markets and distributors. He would, however, like the supermarkets and distributors to agree “to an open audit of their books.”

He also is passionate about reminding Iranian Jews that enjoying cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah is only a custom and not a formal halachah, or Jewish law.

“I must inform the community that there is no halachic obligation, neither from the Torah or the Rabbis, to eat cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah,” according to his Facebook statement. Louie has encouraged Iranian Jews to display fish heads, instead. “If you can’t afford it [tongue], don’t buy it.”

Sam Yebri, a 36-year-old attorney from Westwood and board member of Builders of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, also has joined the boycott.

“To me, the issue is not about allegations of price fixing, price gouging or supply-and-demand economics, and it certainly goes beyond cow’s tongue,” Yebri said. “I am hopeful that this debate reflects a tipping point for the Jewish community. The crisis of affordability of Jewish life is real and is as serious a threat to the future of American Jewry as any our people face, anti-Semitism and assimilation included.”

Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss, seen in a 2014 photo, earned unusual support for his decision from his possible opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Motorola Mobility

Jewish candidate for Illinois governor drops running mate over BDS


A Jewish candidate for Illinois governor dropped his running mate over a disagreement about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Daniel Biss, a state senator, said in a statement Wednesday on his campaign website that he had made a “difficult” decision to part ways with Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa just a week after announcing their ticket.

Biss said that he had raised BDS in the interview process and understood that Ramirez-Rosa opposed it, but in subsequent discussions it became clear “that Carlos’ position has changed.”

In a statement Wednesday to the Chicago Sun-Times, Ramirez-Rosa suggested that he opposed BDS on the local and state level — he notably voted against it in a council vote in 2015 — but supported it at the federal level.

“The difference of opinion we have on the role the BDS movement plays at the federal level would make it impossible to continue moving forward as a ticket,” Ramirez-Rosa said in the statement.

Biss came under pressure after it was revealed that Ramirez-Rosa, in an interview a year ago prior to the Democratic National Convention, said that “for too long the U.S. government has subsidized the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., a Jewish Chicago-area member of Congress, dropped his endorsement of Biss, who is running in a field of nine for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Ramirez-Rosa is also a member of Democratic Socialists for America, which endorses BDS.

In his statement Biss, a mathematician running as a progressive, cited his Jewish background in explaining his decision.

“Growing up with an Israeli mother, grandparents who survived the Holocaust, and great-grandparents who did not survive, issues related to the safety and security of the Jewish people are deeply personal to me,” Biss said.

“I strongly support a two-state solution,” he continued. “I support Israel’s right to exist, and I support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. I also care deeply about justice for Palestinians and believe that a vision for the Middle East must include political and economic freedom for Palestinians. That’s why I oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, as I believe it moves us further away from a peaceful solution.”

Biss earned unusual support for his decision from a former spokesman for Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican whom Biss may face in next year’s election.

“Under Governor Rauner’s leadership, Illinois became the first state in America to divest its public pension funds from companies that participate in BDS,” Richard Goldberg said in a statement. “This should always be a bipartisan issue and I applaud Congressman Schneider and Senator Biss for making clear to the far-left that BDS has no place in the Democratic Party.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Wikipedia

BDS activists prevented from boarding flight to Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear Jewish community,

So you wanna understand Israel-Palestine debates on campus?

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

Shocking, right? We try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

Congress urges Trump to appoint a Jewish liaison


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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full letter below:

Dear Mr. President:

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jacky Rosen, Lee Zeldin, Stephanie Murphy, Doug Lamborn

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

Wish You Weren’t Here Roger Waters


Boycott of Waters Launched With Petition, Website and Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Screenshot from Sears.com

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


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

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

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

The availability of the designs was first reported by Reuters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debating the BDS movement’s immorality


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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

It is a historic moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we must start with the latter.


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

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

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


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

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

The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.

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

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

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

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

Conoley was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

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

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

Goodman was not immediately available for an interview on Thursday.

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

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

Dartmouth’s fraudulent choice of Bruce Duthu


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Defending Ed Asner, and Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just want peace,” he said.

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

Ridiculous.

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

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

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


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

Thom Yorke performing with Radiohead in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 1. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

BDS petition calls on Radiohead to cancel scheduled Tel Aviv concert


Anti-Israel activists are urging British rock band Radiohead to cancel its July 19 concert in Tel Aviv. For now, however, its performance at Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv remains listed on the group’s official website, wasteheadquarters.com.

“We applaud Radiohead for joining their peers and using their art as a way to bring people together,” Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) said in an April 25 statement, issued in response to the publication of an April 24 petition urging Israel to cancel the performance.

Signatories to the open letter include Roger Waters, former member of Pink Floyd, who has a history of criticizing Israel, Tunde Adibimpe of New York band TV on the Radio and nearly 50 others.

Artists for Palestine UK, a network of artists that support a cultural boycott of Israel, addresses Radiohead members Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway in its letter calling for the cancellation.

Radiohead, which this month headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in support of its latest album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” has had ties to Israel ever since its 1993 song, “Creep,” became popular on Israeli army radio, according to Tablet Magazine. The article includes an audio recording of the band’s performance in Israel. Crowd members discuss the set list in Hebrew in-between songs. It’s a cool little historical pop culture artifact.

The band’s ties to Israel don’t end there. It recently completed a U.S. tour featuring Israel-based cross-cultural Jewish-Arabic project Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis as its opening act.

Nevertheless, those who signed the letter calling for the quintet to “think again” before playing Israel dismissed the band’s collaboration with Jewish-Arabic musicians as irrelevant, which reminds one of the controversy surrounding Paul Simon when he visited South Africa to brainstorm ideas for the album that eventually became “Graceland.”

“You may think that sharing the bill with Israeli musicians Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis, who play Jewish-Arabic music, will make everything OK.  It won’t, any more than ‘mixed’ performances in South Africa brought closer the end of the apartheid regime,” the letter says. “Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”

CCFP says the letter’s claims against Israel are “inaccurate.”

“Unfortunately, their letter is filled with inaccurate accusations against Israel, including false claims of ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide.’ Trying to appeal to artists’ natural empathy for the downtrodden, the boycott movement falsely characterizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a movement seeking peace and justice, and drives the prospect of peace further away,” the CCFP statement says.

Radiohead ascended to cultural prominence in the 1990s. Its albums “The Bends,” “OK Computer” and, a personal favorite, “Kid A,” released in 2000, underscore the band’s intelligent, if impenetrable, lyrics and innovative soundscapes. Ironically, the band has drawn comparisons to Waters’ Pink Floyd.

CCFP has previously weighed in on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel targeting bands slated to play there. Rod Stewart, scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on June 14, and Aerosmith, scheduled to perform May 17, were recently targeted by activists who support boycotting Israel, CCFP says.

A March 28 Jerusalem Post article says that the BDS influence on rock and pop acts booked in Israel is “waning.” The proof is Israel concert promoters are currently preparing for Israel’s “busiest concert season in history,” CCFP says. Radiohead, Stewart, Aerosmith and even pop queen Britney Spears are booked at Hayarkon Park. Spears is scheduled to perform there July 3.

 

 

 

 

 

Ed Asner. Photo from Wikipedia

Ed Asner: ‘I do not support BDS’


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahad Ha'am, c.1913

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbia student council votes down adding BDS referendum


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

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

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

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

Sen. Ben Cardin speaking at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 1, 2015. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Bipartisan bill in House and Senate targets settlement boycotters with fines


A bipartisan slate of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill that would extend fines on companies that comply with the Arab League boycott of Israel to those complying with a U.N.-designated boycotts of settlements.

The Israel Anti-Boycott act initiated Thursday in the House of Representatives and the Senate was prompted in part by the call last year of the U.N. Human Rights Council for the creation of a database of companies that deal with Israel entities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. On Thursday, the council approved a resolution calling on countries to cut ties to settlements.

Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced the compliance bill in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Juan Vargas, D-Calif., introduced the measure.

“The United States should bring its foreign policy and its economic institutions, its relationships, and its leverage to bear to combat boycott, divestment, and sanctions actions against Israel,” Cardin, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “We should not stand idle when foreign countries or international governmental organizations use BDS tactics to isolate one of our key allies.”

The bill attaches fines passed in a 1979 law targeting the Arab League boycott of Israel, then in full force. The boycott has since abated in influence, in part because it was criminalized by the United States.

Liberal pro-Israel groups have objected in recent years to similar legislation, arguing that boycotting settlements — an action that some liberal Zionists support — should not be wrapped into broader boycotts of Israel, which most of the Jewish community rejects.

Cardin has argued that the new legislation is not aimed at protecting settlements, but at keeping the Palestinians from forcing Israel’s hand in determining a final-status agreement absent talks.

“We cannot allow these attempts to bypass direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to go unchecked,” he said in his statement.

His release emphasized that the bill includes language that “does not make any U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements” and “is only about opposing politically-motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

The bill comes on the eve of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference. AIPAC has been assisting lawmakers in drafting pro-Israel bills that would attract support from both parties, a rarity in a Washington increasingly polarized by President Donald Trump’s administration. Its activists will lobby for the bills on the last day of the conference, which runs March 26-28.

On Thursday, a bipartisan raft of senators introduced a bill that would target Iran with sanctions on its missile testing and its backing for destabilization in the Middle East, but that avoids sanctions that have been relieved by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. A similar bill was introduced the same day by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip. Hoyer and Royce are scheduled to speak at the conference.

Democrats back the Iran deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, while Republicans oppose it.

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.

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